When is Product Management NOT the right job for you
+ Different ways PMs can "Say No"
When is Product Management NOT the right job for you?
Yes, anyone can be a Product Manager.
But that doesn’t mean they should be one.
Product Management is truly a fulfilling, challenging field. It has gained popularity in recent times as pay scales have gone up & the resources to ramp up on its fundamentals have multiplied.
Thus, we’re seeing tons of people lining up to “break” into the field.
But talking to some aspiring PMs, I sometimes feel people look towards the field with a myopic view & some misguided notions.
Here are reasons people have told me why they want to get into PM:
- "Better salary for less work."
- “As a PM, I’ll finally be able to implement my ideas.”
- "PM is less stressful than engineering. I’m done coding."
- "I love to solve problems but don’t want to code or design."
- "It will help me learn how to build a business & start something on my own.”
Let me start by saying this.
If anyone thinks that product management is "easier" than their previous role, they are sadly mistaken.
Product Managers endure the same level (if not more) of stress than the rest of the managers. Orchestrating an execution is taxing.
Also, engineers and designers deal with code & designs primarily. Product Managers mainly deal with people - from stakeholders to higher ups to execution teams. People are complex. And that complexity brings challenges that’s unique to the discipline.
I won’t deny that the discipline does teach you a lot about what goes into running a business, especially when you get into a leadership category.
However, I still maintain that entrepreneurship is a different beast that caters to a different set of issues: from hiring to fundraising/capital management to financial management to organizational problems.
That’s why before anyone decides to switch careers, they need to stop & think.
What does Product Management really entail? Do my interests, preferences and ambitions align with what’s expected of a Product Manager?
Because Product Management might NOT be for you if the following apply to you:
🚩 Ambiguity throws you off.
When I started my PM internship at Microsoft, I was told this:
"Aatir, we don't have a task for you. You need to find a problem yourself & then go solve it."
That's been the case all my career.
Nothing is given to you on a platter. Data isn't always available. You don't know if you'll have resources. Markets can be fickle. Customers change minds. Stakeholder expectations are fuzzy.
Yet, a Product Manager still needs to steer the ship in this fog of uncertainty.
🚩 Intense communication isn't your thing
A Product Manager is always trying to create shared understanding.
With stakeholders on what to expect, with engineering on what to build, with leadership on performance.
That's done through clear, consistent communication.
Yes. Think emails, Slack, memos, docs, slides, calls.
But that's not all. You need to be VERY comfortable with interruptive communication.
People will pepper you with questions at odd times. While you can choose when to respond, some of the fires will need immediate attention.
🚩 You can't let go of perfectionism.
PM is all about making tradeoffs.
You don't have infinite resources or time and thus, you need to sometimes let go of the "rough edges" to make way for something else.
You need to have a sense of "Good enough" & keep shipping.
🚩 Accountability & ownership scares you
In most firms, you'll be judged on outcomes.
While there is a case for inputs to be recognized, a PM still owns the end result, good or bad.
You may have built an exceptional UX, released on-time & thought out of the box. But due to externalities, your metrics went south.
You only earn the right to celebrate if the customer thinks you solved a problem for them & the business/product metrics support the theory.
🚩 Research doesn't intrigue you
Rule 1: You are not the customer.
Rule 2: Don't forget Rule 1.
A hard part of the job is to refrain from the temptation of self-projecting your own preferences.
You're in the driving seat but with many hands on the steering.
Sure, there is guesswork involved & you will need to practice best judgement.
But PM requires researching user needs. Tapping into feedback loops. Deciphering analytics. Not just "talking" to customers but ALSO distilling & extracting valuable insights.
Don't get me wrong.
Product Management is a fulfilling field.
But it's not for everyone. And that's ok.
Different ways a Product Manager can “Say No”
There's a LOT of emphasis on "Saying no" in Product Management circles these days.
IMHO, this phrase makes it seem that a Product Manager has a binary choice to incoming ideas: Agree or Slam the door.
In practice, however, there are a spectrum of responses available.
Before deciding which one to issue, start with the usual:
👉 actively listening to the request
👉 unpack the context by asking relevant questions
👉 take time to understand where in your priority stack this would rank
(sidebar: you can always buy time to respond. Saying No doesn't need to be a knee-jerk reaction)
After your initial due diligence, you have a few choices.
I'll explain these choices with an example.
Assume the product = LinkedIn post scheduling tool.
Now, you could choose one of the following responses:
𝟭. 𝗡𝗼 (𝗯/𝗰 𝗼𝗳 𝘃𝗶𝘀𝗶𝗼𝗻)
Close the loop by citing why this doesn’t align with the larger strategy. This is the standard "No" response we all are taught to embrace.
“So, no, we won’t be adding an InMail advertising module. We’re focused on facilitating creators to manage their content cycle so creating a module designed for lead generation doesn’t align with our vision.”
𝟮. 𝗡𝗼 (𝗯/𝗰 𝗼𝗳 𝗳𝗲𝗮𝘀𝗶𝗯𝗶𝗹𝗶𝘁𝘆)
Close the loop by citing that it’s just not technically feasible. This is slightly different because it's not that the idea doesn't have weight. It's because you can't.
”No, we can’t import TikTok videos & create a scheduling action for videos on LI. The APIs simply doesn’t support that at the moment. But if something comes along, we’ll definitely consider it. ”
𝟯. 𝗡𝗼𝘁 𝗻𝗼𝘄
Acknowledge the merit of the idea but highlight other priorities that take precedence.
”Sure, multi-casting a LinkedIn post to other social media sounds interesting. However, our current strategy is to double down on the LI experience & we have a few epics based on customer feedback to roll out first first. We will revisit this next Q.”
𝟰. 𝗡𝗼𝘁 𝘁𝗵𝗶𝘀, 𝗯𝘂𝘁 𝘁𝗵𝗮𝘁
You discover that another feature in the pipeline will address the problem in a better fashion. Pitch that.
”100% agreed on how it’s important to have a report on follower trends. Luckily, we have a customizable dashboarding module coming out next month which will cater for this scenario & more.”
𝟱. 𝗡𝗼𝘁 𝘂𝗻𝘁𝗶𝗹 𝗫 𝗵𝗮𝗽𝗽𝗲𝗻𝘀
Similar to 2, but when the dependency is internal - once it's addressed, you're likely to push through.
”Yes, there is massive demand to import a Twitter thread & reformat it into a LinkedIn carousel. However, it might require front-end skills that our existing team may not have. We will work on it once our hire comes through.”
𝟲. 𝗡𝗼, 𝘂𝗻𝗹𝗲𝘀𝘀 𝘄𝗲 𝘀𝗲𝗲 𝗫 𝗵𝗮𝗽𝗽𝗲𝗻
The "ask" makes sense theoretically but it’s dependent on certain occurrences.
”I like the idea about using a multi-lingual interface. However, our demographic stats or customer feedback haven’t really supported the theory that there is a need for this right now. We’ll have to see a shift in audience behavior to greenlight it.”
𝟳. 𝗡𝗼, 𝗯𝘂𝘁 𝗰𝗮𝗻 𝗲𝘅𝗽𝗹𝗼𝗿𝗲 𝘄𝗶𝘁𝗵 𝗺𝗼𝗿𝗲 𝗶𝗻𝗳𝗼 𝗼𝗻 𝗫
You don’t fully understand why customers are asking for a feature & need more data & info.
”I’m not entirely clear what we’re trying to achieve with a CRM integration. I’ll need a better business case or evidence for this.”
As a Product Manager, you are the guardian of the backlog, and you need to know the nuances involved in negotiating requests.
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