Product Management Career Tip – Don’t be an “I” or “they” specialist

On Friday, I had to complete my self evaluation of my Q2 performance review. As I was reviewing myself, I noticed that I had to continously mention how “I” got this and that done. Too many “I’s” were making me uncomfortable that I had to pause and think about it, but was soon to realize that it was appropriate because this was my self evaluation – a self reflection on my performance/accomplishments/mistakes and not the group performance.

However, in the normal working life as a software product manager, there is typically no “I”, there is no “they”, it is always “We”. I get quite irritated when I meet such “I” specialists for whom everything is “I said this”, “I did this”. As a software product manager, there is very little that you can do which is not a group effort. Whether it is working with your development team, your marketing team or your finance team or your product management team, your accomplishments are primarily achieved by working with others. Hence, it is typically “We” did this or “We” should do this or “I” recommend that “we” do this.

Then there are the “they” specialists – folks who refer to their employers as “they”. For example, “I” recommended this, but “they” don’t want to do it. You are far better off pitching this as – “I” am recommending this because “we” can get to X,Y and Z. You come across as a true team player in your internal and external conversations. If you do this well and if you had a primary lead on some of these accomplishments, the right people should notice the leadership role you had to play. That recognition is far better than having to promote oneselves at every possible opportunity.

This is especially important when it comes to job interviews. You want to come across as a team player and “we” is the way to go. If all you do is become an “I” specialist or “they” specialist, it does not come across well. Of course, there are instances where you have to talk about what you have accomplished, but you will still be better off if you refer to some of these with a “We”. “They” when referring to an employer is best avoided.

Agree? Let me know.

8 thoughts on “Product Management Career Tip – Don’t be an “I” or “they” specialist”

  1. Nice thoughts. Transparency is one way to generate the “we” mindset. While conveying user needs, I like to show the dev. team survey feedback. Share presentations distinguishing competing products, share the product roadmap. And while this is sometimes easier said than done, I like to be open to feedback on product management deliverables and ideas.

    As Gopal indicates, a lot of ideas in a great product will come from members of different teams. This is a great benefit for product managers because people suggesting the ideas will be happy to take responsibility for quality execution 🙂 An important role of a product manager is to be an enabler, encouraging the best ideas to come out. After all, as a product manager, you want the design team (for example) to be better at design than you are 🙂

  2. I agree with Gopal on not becoming THE “I” specialist. But I think some aspect of “I” is still necessary. Whether it is an internal performance review or a job interview, I guess what your supervisor or interviewer is looking for the how much is the “I” contribution in success of “We”. For a job interview, the candidate would need to select and highlight those “I” inputs and link them to the “We” outputs and responsibilities of the role s/he is interviewing for.

  3. Good piece. It is similar to findings in the book “Good to Great” which found that at Great companies the CEO’s talked about success as we versus the CEO’s with less sustainable success referred to “I”.

  4. @Raminder But I think Gopal is not applying his “I” reference generically. So as a product manager I believe you are better positioned when referring to your team’s accomplishment. And that should definitely not mean that you shouldn’t sell yourself. Keeping this fact in mind can let you apply at a relevant situation in the interview. Ultimately scoring better !!!

    Thanks Gopal, again for the nice thoughts.

  5. A bit disagree to last para.
    In job interviews every candidate, whether is software PM, or CIO, or NASA scientist, has to use “I”. Only thing is it should not solely be “I” but “We” as well in other places. Nothing wrong in using “I” where individual has contributed solely but he should be polished and mature enough to showcase team values also. Otherwise, how candidate will present to his prospective employer that he is worth for him?

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