One of the most important influences of my young life (besides the endless stream of books I consumed) was the TV show The Pretender. The premise of the show is that Jarod, the title character, is a genius and former child prodigy who escapes from the facility of a shadowy organization that is trying to use his great intellect for nefarious purposes of their own. Each week Jarod teaches himself a new profession and imitates it flawlessly, helping people in the process.
When I was 10, I wanted to learn a new profession and have a different job every week, just like Jarod.
My CV may look like a random walk to some, but to me it has a central unifying purpose: the desire to broaden my field of vision, scope of knowledge and sphere of influence, step by step. I didn’t know it at the time, but with each successive job and each business started and then peacefully laid to rest when there was no further drop of learning I could squeeze from it, I was laying the groundwork for becoming a PM.
Why is this? Well, because by nature a PM is a generalist whose job it is to unite teams of specialists to further a common goal. Here’s what I mean:
Your average engineer or UX designer or marketing manager is by nature a specialist. His or her job is to cultivate deep knowledge and expertise in a particular area, and to hone his or her craft over many years. When people cultivate this deep domain knowledge, they don’t always develop the ability to communicate effectively with people outside this domain. If you’ve ever been in a room while a PhD level engineer tries to explain data structures to your head of marketing, you know this is true.
My job as a PM is to provide the general direction (and, more importantly, the data to support the decision to go in that general direction), to facilitate the team coming to a consensus on specifics, to keep the user in my mind and the team’s at all times, and to create a communications bridge to other teams of experts that have something to contribute to our process. Most crucially of all, my job is to listen to the team and to serve their interest (and mine, and the company’s, and the user’s!) by clearing roadblocks from their path.
To do that I have to know a little bit about a lot of things – enough to figure out the right questions to ask, to understand when I’m given an answer or a further direction to look in, and to ask probing questions to make sure that both they and I have correctly understood the issues at hand if something doesn’t seem right. The most important thing I have to know about is human psychology — what allows people to work harmoniously together in a team, what to do to build consensus on sticky topics, and the likely needs and desires of our users.
I’m honored to have served several wonderful teams during my career. Each has taught me a little more about how to lead by building consensus and providing value, how to handle criticism humbly and enjoy being asked tough questions, and how to get inside the mind of a user and maintain a laser focus on providing the best possible experience.
To me, product management is more of a calling than a job or just something I do. It’s fundamentally a great feeling to know that I’m connecting people every day, and playing my part in bringing people happiness and satisfaction in their work or in using the products our team builds.
This is my product management philosophy, and I’m delighted to share it with you. Naturally I welcome questions, criticism, or suggestions on how to build it better.