How to suck at product management?

Throughout my professional career as a programmer, I’ve worked with many kinds of product managers. Some of them were awesome leaders and some sucked badly. This post is about the top ways they can suck:

1. Lack of vision: they have wishes and orders from above, but their actions show that they don’t have a clue what they are doing. There is no sign of validated learning. Keeping the developers in the dark is the best way to kill their motivation and let them leave the team. Product Requirement Document (PRD) is a great platform to share vision and sync with the team.

2. Fail to recognise that the product is made by people: even though product managers don’t have any authority over people, their main job is to motivate and encourage people to do the actual work. I’ve seen many product managers who put too much focus on the product and fail to deliver because they simply can’t bring the best out of people.

3. Don’t understand the tech: this affects their communication with developers and is the number one reason for loosing their credit among them. When someone doesn’t understand the technology it’s hard to believe they can accept responsibility to lead it. Having a background in engineering can greatly help but showing interest to learn and carefully listening to developers goes a long way. Unfortunately development is too sweet to give up for a management position. ;-)

4. Fail to say “why. Engineers are smart people. It would be a big waste of resources to use them merely as code monkeys. If they know why they are solving the problems, they can come up with better solutions for “how” to solve them. If they understand the vision, their solutions will be easier to expand in the future.

5. Don’t meet the customers: this is a classic. Good product managers get the hell out of the building and meet the customers regularly! But unfortunately some product managers love the comfort of their chair. I know a case where the product manager even hired someone else at the customer site for doing his job.

6. Have a big ego that leaves no space for other people’s ideas: entrepreneurship is great, but just because you start a business and hire people doesn’t mean you are smarter than them. Some entrepreneurs have a big ego and [un]consciously hire people who are OK with that (i.e bootlickers) and anyone who grows out of this habit has to leave the company. This creates a culture of mediocracy which is not good for the business.

7. Force developers into too many pointless meetings: I’ve written about that before. Product managers spend a big part of their day in meetings but they should be aware that other people create value outside those meetings so it’s best not to waste their time.

8. Have no motivation. Do you know what is worse than a failed entrepreneur? An entrepreneur with no liability. If you hire product managers whose performance isn’t connected to their pay check, don’t expect them to be too careful with your product. Speaking of incentives, this video is highly recommended.

9. Don’t bring the best out of people. They treat people like machines which can’t be changed. They don’t understand how people get motivated. They fail to delegate responsibility and help people grow because they are too focused on the product. For seeing the potentials in people, I highly recommend mindset.

10. Don’t know when to pivot or preserve. If the metrics are not performing well, it is perfectly acceptable to rethink the strategy and escape failure or the land of the living dead.

11. Don’t say “no”. This overwhelms the team or creeps the product. It is very important to create an MVP and be careful with the market fit. In order to say “yes” to something you may have to say “no” to a hundred other things. This prioritisation and braveness buys you credit with the team. This figure from Evanoc says it all:

And this one from tangleblog:

Read why programming is the most awesome job ever?

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Knowledge Worker, MSc Systems Engineering, Tech Lead, Web Developer

Knowledge Worker, MSc Systems Engineering, Tech Lead, Web Developer