Relationship Series Part IV: The Product Manager – Strength in Our Diversity
Updated: Nov 17, 2022
No one grows up saying they want to be a product manager (at least not in the time and place I grew up). Yet, despite this, the product managers, with whom I have worked, have been some of my most passionate colleagues. We all seem to have come from different career backgrounds, but like the proverbial roads leading to Rome our paths have intersected in a spaghetti junction of features and functions and user stories and releases. We often share a common goal, to deliver great products to enthusiastic users in order to make the world a better place. However, can familiarity breed contempt? Can competitive pressures get the better of us? In this post, which is part four of the Relationship Series, I unpack the relationship between a product manager and other product managers.
We have the same job title. Often, we do the same job. The differences in our day-to-day activities are very subtle. Sometimes, we have responsibility for different parts of the same product. Other times our responsibilities are split between a technical focus versus a market focus. Despite the similarities in our role today, there is not one clear path to becoming a product manager. Our educational backgrounds are often very different. I have worked with engineers and computer scientists who have transitioned into product management. I have also worked with history and literature graduates who have somehow found their way to the product side. Then there are those who come from the world of design or marketing. We each bring our different knowledge and experience to the role, but we also bring our own personalities. This amalgamation of personality types definitely has its benefits. Different perspectives, if harnessed correctly can lead to better products. However, it also has its challenges. Communication misunderstandings and differences in perceived priorities can all place strain on the relationship between two product managers.
I do not consider myself overly competitive. I may even ere on the side of being too non-combative. In general, product managers are an ambitious group. We want “our” products to be successful. We chase great user feedback and pursue ever improving usage stats. Competition amongst product managers is important. But, if not managed correctly, the drive for the strategic limelight or the fight for engineering resources can have a detrimental effect to personal relationships.
So how do we as product managers continue to get along in a productive way? We see the world very differently based on our variety of educational and career experiences. We compete for limited resources. Yet, we still need to come together and produce a great product. I have found that the answer (like many aspects of life), is balance. A balance of personalities. A balance of experiences. A balance of responsibilities between product managers. As any manager of a product team will tell you, achieving this balance is not easy and I don’t have a silver-bullet answer. What I have experienced is that this balance, this harmony comes from understanding. Understanding each other’s interests and goals. Understanding your colleagues’ areas of expertise and areas of vulnerability. Most importantly, understanding that we may have the same job title, but we are not a homogenous group. We are diverse and that is our real strength.