Become a software product manager only if …..


Here is a question I received the other day – “I am a business analyst now in product management team and my boss identified me as a candidate for Product management. I am excited about the opportunity, but don’t want to accept something just t0 fail. Can you please answer the below for me?
1. Challenges in PM
2. What interests you in PM?
3. What are the risks in this profession?
4. Do you think Business analysis has more opportunities than PM? “

I will admit that the title of “Business Analyst” and “Software Product Manager” are challenging by itself because there are a myriad definitions and job responsibilities that come with it depending on the company you work for. I have worked for companies where product managers were “spec monkeys” – nothing else – they were expected to write detailed specs and nothing else – they never talked to customers, but just wrote these documents based on “in-house expert thinking”. In other companies software product managers ran the business for their product line from figuring out unmet needs, what products/features to build, to getting the product out into the market. This to me is the right job description for a software product manager. I will base my answers based on this description.

1. Challenges in Product Management – Biggest challenge is that no one works for you – you need to win the trust and confidence of your team by influence and not authority. You need to win them over by proving that you know more about the painpoints in your target market than any of them combined – you need to provide solid evidence – show them the “customer capital” you have earned. Your team has to start believing that you are expressing opinions grounded in the market research you have done and not based on personal opinions. Personal opinion is a losing proposition – your opinion not grounded in market needs is as good as some one else’s in your company. Once you have won them over, you have to act as a cheer leader to the team – you have to keep their spirits high during the lows of the product development cycle, keep them informed of how well the product is doing in the market etc.

2. What interests you in Product Management? – There is no other position in a company that is more cross functional than that of a Software Product Manager. As a software product manager, you deal with customers, engineering, QA, order management, sales channels, finance and most other departments in the company. You are required to make sure that everyone responsible to get the product in front of the customer is working together to win. It allows you to build “leadership” skills where you have the exposure to all faces of the business.

3. What are the risks in this profession? – Depends on your capabilities. If you are NOT comfortable talking to customers, this one is not for you. If you are NOT comfortable leading a group of people none of whom report to you, this one is not for you. If you are NOT comfortable where “you are always guilty of being wrong unless you prove yourself right”, this one is not for you. Everyone from executives to individual contributors have their own egos and personal opinions that they think is right and it is your job to make sure that product decisions are grounded in market realities than someone’s personal opinions. It is a fine line to walk and you will lose some and win some. You should be ready to take some on the chin.

4. Do you think Business analysis has more opportunities than PM?- Depends. If all you want to do is write specs, business analyst might be the best job for you. But just being a business analyst is not going to take you far. Think about it, have you seen titles such as VP of Business Analysis in companies? Compare that to titles of VPs of Product Management, Chief Product Officers, VPs of Products etc.

These are my two cents based on my experience. What do others think?

4 Responses to Become a software product manager only if …..

  1. Pingback: Product Management Reader: 5Feb09 | The Productologist: Exploring the Depths of Product Management

  2. John says:

    What about basic UI skills? a sense of how to create user experiences?

  3. bob corrigan says:

    , , ,you are adept at herding cats without succumbing to the urge to kill any of them.

    . . . you are adept at getting your coworkers, partners, customers, press contacts, etc. to help you paint your fence for you.

    . . .you believe it is more important to make great decisions happen than it is for you personally to make great decisions unilaterally.

  4. Passionate PM says:

    Just came across this post… very realistic. Good job.

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