As part of our Product Management course, I often end up talking to a lot of aspirants who look at product management as the next big career move and a move which will make them famous, rich, sexy and have a (more) meaningful career (not sure of the order though).
Most of the product management aspirants often fall into the trap of ‘life will get better after this’ and to me, that’s a typical replica of taglines from ever growing IIT coaching institutes who promise a ‘1000x better life after IIT’.
Like ‘1000x better life after IIT’ may or may not happen, similarly you may or may not become a great product leader by the virtue of taking up a product management role.
The truth is that product management is a way of thinking (and neither a role nor an entitlement).
And this brings me to an important question: Is there a right (or wrong) way of thinking (when it comes to product management)?
While a lot has been written about what it takes to become a great product manager, let me take a different view point and share what makes a bad product manager aspirant (note: I say aspirant and not a practitioner as this essay is focused on those who are transitioning to a PM role and are still not a practitioner).
In no order, here are a few important attributes that makes one totally unfit for product management role.
1. You aren’t interested in talking to people (because you are an introvert).
A great product manager often talks to different team members and is learning most of the times. But if you are somebody who keeps his/her interaction to a bare minimum, you will be a.. bare minimum product manager.
PS: Talking to people and being introvert are two totally different things. You can be super introvert and still willing to talk to others because you are damn curious about the problem your product is solving and want to know in depth who your customers are/what they do/questions they have etc.
So whenever you get chance, you talk to customers, you talk to support, sales, marketing teams and listen to all they have to share.
2. You got NO observation skills
There are people who have ATD (attention to detail) and there are ones who don’t.
Frankly, observation skills is one of the rarest ones given the degrading attention span.
Imagine you are out in the traffic and have a diary. What all will you note down? What will you observe? Are there more even numbered cars than odd-numbered ones? Are there more male drivers than females? Do you see more blue cars?
The real story doesn’t end with these observations. The real story starts from the observations you make. And the inferences you can derive.
And eventually all this leads to hypothesis, which may lead to a great product!
TL;DR: Observation skills is largely about being aware. Being aware of where you are / what’s happening / who is doing what (applicable to the traffic example above as well as your business landscape).
3. You HATE to question
90% of product management is the ability to ask great questions.
See, you can ask questions or you can ask GREAT questions. There is a huge difference between the two.
GREAT questions are often a sum of homework you have done, your observation around the market/user behavior, your ability to comprehend or articulate your viewpoint and importantly, your understanding of whom to ask what.
Many societies often curb one’s questioning abilities and if you have been brought up under such circumstances, here is what I recommend:
The reality is that if you feel uncomfortable about questioning your team, your bosses, your customers – you will never progress.
YES (WO)MEN NEVER make great product leaders.
4. You are not a MULTI-TASKER
Product managers are multi-taskers and this is one bare minimum skill you’d need to scale up in PM career.
Any given point in time, you are dealing with marketing, engg, sales, QA, support team and handling requirements from customers, leaderships etc and more etc. You are sharing product specs with engineering and at the same time, GTM plan with marketing.
You will feel totally stressed out if you don’t enjoy multi-tasking (on a serious note, I believe women make great product managers thanks to their multi-tasking capabilities).
5. You avoid NEGOTIATING
Last, but not the least – if you are the kind who hates negotiating, you will do damn bad in product management.
Half of product management work (especially in the early days) goes in negotiating between engineering, design and marketing teams. The higher you go in the ladder, the more you are expected to negotiate (with leadership, investors and everybody else).
Negotiation is part of a great product manager’s daily life – learn to enjoy that !
Note that product management is about hard skills (of data crunching/playing with numbers) but it is these soft skills that creates a 10X product leader.