Decoding Careers: what manages a product manager?

Looking back all these years, I have built and managed so many interesting things. I went through successes, disappointments and all in between. But as a product manager (PM), you are complete if you have been at least through these three different experiences.

  1. You have been managing vaporware;
  2. You have been managing mature products;
  3. You have been managing the birth and the success of a new product;

You have been managing vaporware

If it did not happen to you … yet, it will in your career and it’s fine. You will learn it is an enrichment to your career, but just don’t let it become your career, so keep it short. What happens here? You get to be assigned to a product that will never hit the market. There could be different reasons like failed market research, R&D did not deliver, wrong design, etc. For sure this period of work goes through the well-known hype cycle but after the disillusion, it will never get to mainstream. The good news here is that not having a product to show, your powerpoints should be so excellent, detailed, etc. You have mockups, prototypes and everything is done for 90%. The only advice is to keep your material as they will become handy in better times.

You have been managing mature products

A very good experience is to inherit the management of a product that exists for a (long) time. You did not create it, therefore it will never be fully yours. Eventually, maybe. Mature products have significant activities like customers and the daily PM job will go into managing requirements, roadmaps and updates. Nothing wrong with that and definitely a period where learning setting expectations will be important. You will have to help sales to activate (dormant) customers and you will need to watch the maintenance pipeline. It will be important to be in harmony with the development team, otherwise, your role will be relegated to outbound activities. Even if the product was created before you came and everything can go on the automatic pilot, your challenge is to become relevant by making your product yours. The best way to approach is to learn the product, its functionalities, learn by demo through all its aspects and backgrounds. If you master the product, you start spinning your web: get expert and lead from the front. If you don’t, you are the paper or legacy PM.

You have been managing the birth and the success of a new product

This is the most exciting experience for a product manager and frankly for all different roles. This is a product you create and build with your development team, together. This product is yours. This period is experienced like a startup. Roll up your sleeves, you are the designer, the tester, the sales, the demo, the support, the marketing, the pricing, etc. You all do this for the success of the product. The commitment and attachment to a product go beyond anything and it shows with all your passion and love you put into it. As you started fresh without inheritance, you may still have some awesome powerpoints from one of the previous dark ages: time to remove some dust and reused them. The world has not changed, the industry just uses new names now for the same concepts. If you have the luck to be part of this experience, I can tell you it is the best one.

In the next blog, I will cover some of the concepts here in detail.

Massimo

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