the toughest part of product management

More and more people would like to be product managers. It's actually a pretty tough job. Most of the things I know I learned on the job. Not that I haven't read a tons of books about it. These books helped me a lot and gave me a lot of inspiration. Though in most of the cases it's hard to apply the techniques directly. Why is it so hard? What's the toughest part of product management?

In general it is widely accepted that a product manager's main responsibility is to manage the product. On the other hand this is actually a very vague statement. What does it mean to manage a product? To control where it evolves? Maybe. The situation is that products evolve because people make them evolve (i.e. develop them). This basically means if you would like to manage a product you need to lead the people who build them. So in the end it boils down to people. A great product manager knows how to communicate effectively with people and how to motivate them to implement the product vision. Besides this there are tons of other people with whom you need to collaborate to ease the work of others. Such as the CEO, all the executives and directors. It depends on the size of the organisation of course.

The above cannot be learned from textbooks. It starts at building trust and keeping it. If you would like to read more about it then there is a nice model that describes the five dysfunctions of a team. The most important dysfunction is the Absence of Trust. A team must avoid it at any cost. Fortunately there are multiple ways that can help you avoid it. As a rule of thumb I suggest to be vulnerable and always honest. In real life you need to practice these as much as possible.

The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni

The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni

For me the first part is the harder. It's a natural reaction to protect myself. It is considered widely as a weakness. However "vulnerability is about sharing our feelings and our experiences with people who have earned the right to hear them" as Brené Brown puts it. She has a fantastic TEDx talk about this. I really recommend it.

So trust is very important. Without it a product manager can loose his/her credibility very fast and it's really hard to win it back. Remember, you don't have formal authority. You need to earn respect to be able to lead all the fantastic people who will build the product.

It's not discovery, it's not validation, it's not idea generation and it's not delivery. It is leading people. This is the toughest part of product management.