Tuesday, July 1, 2014

The Accidental Product Manager

I've been doing Product Management for over 13 years. When I reflect back upon my entry into that field, I find that there isn't any single event that led me there. Even my entry into software development was roundabout - having come from a graphics background. I've also found that this is a common trait among other product managers I've met or worked with - it seems we all started elsewhere then gravitated towards what we like best about software development, the actual design and creation of something new. Continuing on this thread, I haven't seen any specific courses for product management (sure there are certification courses by companies such as Pragmatic Marketing, but I've never seen any specific course work offered in universities to prepare a student for software product management). I have encountered some common characteristics of the best PdMs that I've met worth sharing:
  1. Most of the professional product people I've met enjoy a high degree of creativity. The best excel at designing new products that not only provide a great deal of interactivity with the user, but also exceeds the perceived need - it takes genuine creativity to accomplish both goals.
  2. Most product managers are super-detail oriented, with the ability to talk high-level, but then dive deep into the minutiae. There's no room for sloppiness or a lack of details and you'll rarely find a PdM that exhibit those traits.
  3. The best product managers make the user the primary driver of the application and strive to enhance the user-experience. If you haven't heard of heuristics you probably shouldn't be a product manager.
  4. Contrary to the belief of many, a good PdM also talks frequently with his/her technology teams to make sure what's being asked for doesn't have an extreme cost (not just money, but also time, resources and a consideration of the overall technical design). If you're not talking to your teams you should consider doing something else.
  5. Product managers should strive to stay abreast of the latest technology - at minimum to keep things fresh and ideally to take advantage of new opportunities. This also includes training in disciplines outside of his/her comfort zone. If you haven't done Agile you should look into it and learn about being a product owner in a scrum team.
  6. I don't think I could ever take myself seriously, or call myself successful without having actually taken a product from design all the way to market. I both count my wins and learn from my mistakes.
Just a few thoughts - thanks for reading!

-- John Eaton

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