There’s a scene in one of my favorite episodes of Star Trek the Next Generation where a “space freighter captain” named Okona explains that:
“Life... is like loading twice your cargo weight onto your spacecraft. If it’s canaries, and you can keep half of them flying all of the time... you're all right.”
Welcome to the life of product managers, the behind the scenes impresarios of the software world. Product Managers are often tasked with defining the features and functions for their products, managing strategic and tactical relationships inside and outside of the company and directing the movement of their products through their lifecycles.
They always have more to do than there is time to get it done. Competing priorities make it necessary to keep half of their canaries in the air at all times. If they can’t, their proverbial ships crash.
So what makes being a product manager so busy? To understand that, we have to look closer at the role of product manager and how it impacts the organization and its customers.
Martin Eriksson, a twenty year veteran of product management describes the product manager role “…as the intersection between business, technology and user experience. “
- The business aspect of product management seeks to ensure the product is providing the best return on Investment for the business.
- The technology aspect of product management is concerned with how the product works and how much effort is involved with developing it.
- The user experience aspect of product management is focused on being the customers’ advocate inside the organization and working to make the product better for the customer.
A good product manager has to be the rare bird who understands and loves business, technology and has a passion for customers. And those three qualities are just the barrier to entry.
If you want to embrace the product management life you must also love:
- Talking about your product to anyone who will listen.
- Managing overlapping meetings with customers, developers, managers and anyone else curious about your product.
- A flood of emails and instant messages about topics relating to your product.
- Managing customer expectations relating to feature requests for your product
- Dealing with shifting business needs that directly impact your product.
It’s a crazy mix of chaos and concert that requires you to move from task to task like the plate spinner in a variety show. Not that you’ll ever hear a product manager complain. They seem to thrive on it. Who else gets to interact with so many facets of the business? Who else gets to build bridges between departments? Who else gets to advocate for the customer and the business at the same time? It’s a crazy, chaotic job, but the product manager is there to make it better for you.
Being a product manager isn’t for everyone, but if you love a fast pace and the opportunity to affect change for both the customer and the organization, there’s nothing else that comes close, except perhaps being the captain of a space freighter.
Do you have a job that’s crazy like a product manager’s? Tell us about it. What makes it so crazy and how do you deal with it?