For the past several years, I’ve made a habit of clipping interesting articles about Product Management. A friend recently asked for reading suggestions, so I thought I’d share my favorites here.
Be a Great Product Leader (Adam Nash) – This recent favorite concisely breaks down the role of a Product Manager into three key responsibilities; product strategy, prioritization, and execution. It’s hard to argue with these three. On prioritization: “At any company with great talent, there will be a surplus of good ideas…As a result, brutal prioritization is a fact of life.” On execution: “In the end, product managers ship, and that means that product managers cover whatever gaps in the process that need to be covered.”
What Makes Someone a Great Product Manager at Google? (Quora answer by Edward Ho) – This response by an engineer at Google had two recommendations that jumped out at me. First, “be an engineer. I don’t mean that you actually need to be coding the product. I mean you should be curious about how the product is built as if you were an engineer.” If you’re not curious in how the thing you manage works, you’re not doing it right.
Second, Edward calls on Product Managers to be “[f]earless…the best PMs will speak to founders the same way they speak to engineers.” Product Managers need to have the ability to “influence without authority” (to quote an old business school professor). They are often lower in the organizational chart than the people who are looking to them to make important calls. A good product manager can’t be intimated by this.
Why it doesn’t matter where Product Management lives in the Organization (The Cranky Product Manager) – I firmly agree with Cranky’s thesis on this. I’ve worked for three separate product organizations. The first two reported up through marketing and the current one reports up through engineering. When product management is done correctly, it straddles both the business and technical teams so which ever one it formally reports to doesn’t matter.
“The assumption is that if we sit in Engineering we’ll be too spineless and too tunnel-visioned to focus on the customer, market problems, issues for the field, the competition, or market positioning. But if we sit in Marketing that we’ll be so focused on empty soundbites and website color schemes that we won’t be able to give Development detailed enough requirements, that we’ll conjure up product features that can’t possibly be built (a la Warp Drive), and that we’ll stare vacantly into space instead of considering technical extension points (i.e. APIs) for our products.”
Frankly, anything by the CrankyPM is pretty good reading.
You Can Build it, but Can You Sell and Support It? (Saeed Khan) – Saeed has a great answer for the question “should sales and execution capabilities be taken into account for a product’s strategy.” This needs to be a resounding “Yes.” If you are developing a high price, high margin, complex product that requires high touch after sales support, you better have the capability to deliver that support. The product strategy needs to fit within the companies core capabilities.
How Do Awful Products Get Shipped (Quora answer by Michael Wolfe) – We’ve all seen products that have been released before they were ready and wondered “how did that happen?” Michael lists some of the organizational pressures and dynamics that can cause this to happen including: “If you don’t ship, the project will get cancelled and you’ll lose your funding anyway.”
Spare Me from Product Guys (HackerNews Discussion) – Aaron Harris posted on Techcrunch about the problem of “Product Guys” without real experience and the HackerNews community responded. There is a lot of skepticism from this engineering oriented group on the value of Product Managers (including this).
Good Product Manager, Bad Product Manager (by Brad Horowitz) – This is a good overview for when Product Management is responsible for both the inbound and the outbound aspects of product management. (It is also a great history piece on what it must have been like at Netscape during the browser wars.) “Good product managers anticipate the serious product flaws and build real solutions. Bad product managers put out fires all day.” “Good product managers define good products that can be executed with a strong effort. Bad product managers define good products that can’t be executed or let engineering build whatever they want.”
The Product Owner on One Page (Roman Pichler) – This is a nice, simple drawing of a Product Owners key responsibilities in an agile environment.
Seven Traits of Successful Product Managers (Michael Shrivathsan) – This was one of the first articles I read when I made the transition from business development to product management. Hard to argue with any of this.