The most important trait of a product manager

Working together

Working together

I recently came across a LinkedIn survey asking the  above question – what is the most important qualification for a product manager. Curiously, the answers were:

  • Energy and Passion
  • Visionary
  • Demonstrate Leadership
  • Multitasking
  • Problem Solving

Granted, all of the above are great qualities for any employee, especially a leader in a cross functional organization (like most product managers are). Having hired and nurtured product managers, and doing product management for over a decade, there is one missing element screaming out to me from this posting: Being able to differentiate between the must-haves and the nice-to-haves. That is what I look for in new hires.

To explain: often, in product management, it is a matter of doing more with less. While a great team of engineers can churn out remarkable products very quickly, once the first release is out there, you have to constantly struggle between: support(solving bugs), sales support(those one-off features to close a deal) and your own vision of the product (roadmap). This is a hugely difficult struggle.

A good product manager can focus on when and where  the effort can make the greatest impact:

Is it OK to tell a customer to wait for another release, at some time in the future? You plan to have this capability at that time – but the future in software is a dynamically moving target. Your commitments, given honestly, can change with the shift of priorities or larger deals materializing.

Is it OK to postpone fixing a critical bug, if it only recreates for 1% of the customers? how about 5%, 10%? Software, at least until we solve the Alan Turing’s halting  problem, will always have bugs.  Do we need to fix everything now, can we leave known bugs with published workarounds? can we have limitations on some behaviors where the software will not behave correctly?

Is it OK to reduce content of a planned release, assuming we captured the main customer pain-points and delivered the correct value? How about minimizing the content of the release  in order to meet the target date? What’s more important – the date (we promised a release with these bug fixes at date X) or the content (this release cannot go out without this strategic feature)?

A product manager’s day is spent torn between compromises. Making the right ones makes for a great product. Consistently making the right ones, makes you a great product manager.

  • Recall how the iPhone came out without cut&paste or multitasking.
  • Recall how the first Kindles came out without color
  • Windows 3.1 came out without (*gasp*) a TCP/IP stack (even though OS/2, Unix, Linux all had it) [Yeah,I know this is ancient history].
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