My favorite product managers are quietly powerful. Every day they take small steps that move their teams and business forward in a meaningful way. But they do it without a lot of hoopla, taking a confident yet unassuming approach.
After all, product managers have a lot on their plate every day. They are responsible for the strategy, roadmap, and feature definition for their product. It is a big responsibility that requires facilitating and collaborating with many different teams — both internal and external — without the formal authority to manage those teams. It requires a unique mix of humility and strength.
However, that quiet power does not mean leading product is easy. I realized early on that the daily life of a product manager is unpredictable, hectic, and sometimes very tough.
When General Assembly students graduate from their course — whether it’s user experience design or data science — it’s always exciting (and sometimes surprising) to see the range of products and passions that actualize as a result. In the case of Nathan Maas, a Web Development Immersive alumnus of GA Seattle, the product was an idea called pennypost. The passion? Connecting the world with homemade digital postcards that are easy to send and share.
Nathan — who took a range of night classes in product management, front-end development, and data science at GA before choosing WDI — developed a web (and soon-to-be iPhone) app, pennypost, which was inspired by his travels to nearly fifty countries across the globe. Though he bought postcards everywhere he went with the intention of sending them home, constraints like time, postage, and tracking down mailing addresses, meant he never actually sent them. An idea was born.
It’s no secret. Tech talent is in high demand across industries, but finding people with the skill sets to fill these roles has been challenging, causing competition amongst businesses for talent in tech — in coding, UX design, data science, and digital marketing.
Your words can be a powerful ally or your worst enemy. It all depends on how you use them. So, how often do you think deeply about what you are going to say before you say it?
Product managers, in particular, cannot afford to be careless in their speech.
After all, the product management role demands leadership and requires frequent conversations with other teams as well as different external stakeholders. These are not casual conversations; instead, they have some urgency and gravity. The success or failure of the product may depend on how well the product manager communicates with others.
But mastering the art of effective communication is not easy. If you are not careful, your words can undermine your effectiveness and authority.
That is why PMs must root out responses that convey a negative attitude and shut down communication, hindering their progress as a team.
If you are a great product manager, you know a secret that others ignore: managing relationships is essential to your job. As the “mini-CEO” of your product, sometimes it might seem like your main job! Teams from sales to engineering all have a stake in your product. And they often want to see updates presented “their way.”
A decade ago when I started my career in product management, most tech shops gave this role an ambiguous label like consultant or analyst. At the time, besides being a source of an existential crisis my job description had two other problems: I couldn’t explain it to my mother, and it involved authoring specifications – the kind that made its author and readers want to die!
Now, most tech teams either include a product manager or are wondering if they need to. And while my mom still doesn’t get what I do, she is generally pleased that my title says “manager” of something. Also the artifacts that product managers need to produce have evolved to match the personality of the creative people who are typically attracted to this profession. (More on this in a forthcoming post.)
Still, on many days, I have to sit at my desk for hours.
Product management is a role that consists of diverse responsibilities—and therefore requires diverse strengths. Methodical organization, creative thinking, and vision are just a few assets necessary in order to be an effective PM.
This variety is what attracts so many to the field in the first place, and makes their work endlessly interesting and challenging. But it takes a certain type of personality to thrive in this capacity. If you’re considering a foray into this field, take a look at some of the qualities that project managers share to see if they resonate with you.
Meet Alex Cowan, entrepreneur (5x), intrapreneur (1x), author, and instructor at General Assembly. He’s also the author of ‘Starting a Tech Business’. When he’s not teaching at GA, he’s often found advising companies and posting instructional materials for innovators and instructions on alexandercowan.com.
I’m always pushing myself to be the best possible product person I can be, and these days I tend to earn a lot through my work as an instructor. My classes are on the interdisciplinary topics of product design and venture creation, so I get to work with business people wanting to understand the technical side and engineers wanting to learn the business side.
Often times, students from the business side are thinking of learning to code and students from the engineering side are thinking of going to get an MBA. While both might be advisable in certain situations, I’ve found that there are a few simple foundation skills that drive the interdisciplinary cooperation at the heart of so many successful projects: