As a product manager you are … a janitor

Every now and again we like to showcase an excellent blog from someone else.

This well written, witty and quite lengthy blog by Mat Balez explores what it means to be a product manager.

Mat was a PM at Google and now runs a product at a start-up in New York. He views the PM role as a combination of CEO, coach, engineer, hammer, router, super-user, inventor, ghost and last but not least a janitor (caretaker for those of us in the UK).

Grab a coffee, sit down and put aside 10 minutes to read this. If you’re a product manager I guarantee you’ll recognise many aspects of your job … and it will make you smile.

Some extracts below

“The role of a PM is, necessarily, murky. It changes wildly from company to company, and even within a company from team to team, and even on a particular team from day to day. It is perhaps the job where the epithet “wears many hats” is most apt. In many respects it is more dark art than science. More improv than script. More struggling-to-stay-afloat than confidently-surfing-a-wave. Anyway, to all young padawan PMs out there, listen up: to be a kick ass Product Manager on a large and fast-moving software team you cannot be just one thing. You need to be ALL the things.

“The most basic analogy you hear parroted all the time is ‘the PM is the CEO of the product’. For the most part, I consider this a gross overstatement in all but the most senior product roles. The majority of PM jobs involve you driving forward some relatively small dimension of the product, with little meaningful control over resourcing, zero actual reporting authority over anyone, nor much, if any, say in the budgeting process—all within the confines of some larger organizational superstructure that you are subject to, rather than master of. Even in a very senior product role at a startup, you find yourself still subordinate to the ultimate will of the founder and/or actual CEO of the company. So as PM you effectively have no “chief executive” powers at all. Rather, you rely only on your wits and influence…”

You’re a janitor. You do as much of the dirty work as possible so everyone else doesn’t have to. This is one of the most important things you do because it means the whole team operates more efficiently….       … at the end of the day you’ll also have to do a lot of work that no one else wants to do. Like figuring out where to get some big poster printed because PMs don’t have assistants to do this kind of leg work. Like finding a meeting slot that works for 14 different people on the Friday before a long weekend. Like copy editing that blog post for the umpteenth time. Like dealing with Legal (friendly cheap shot!). Like making that presentation flow a little bit better before taking it to some executive. Like triaging the three hundred low priority bugs that remain on the release hotlist.“

Read the whole blog here https://medium.com/p/664d83ee702e

Ian Lunn
Director, Product Focus

Photo used with permission James F Clay, Flickr.

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