Since the last couple of months as a newcomer in Canada, I have been exploring opportunities, engaging in discussions and trying to find my fit. Through multiple conversations on social media, networking events, face to face discussions, interviews and conversation with my friends and acquaintances; I realized that I have finally managed to unpack and understand a statement about product management which I came across a few years ago.
The ambiguity of the product management role is near to its essence. — Dan Schmidt
In simple terms, what the above statement means is:
It’s pretty difficult to concisely define product management due to variability and strong dependency on context, and the ambiguity is a significant and invariable feature of product management. Since early 2014, I have interacted with and trained by experts who have multiple decades of experience in product management. They were serving as human representations of swiss army knives in their organizations. However, the ambiguity is a lot more applicable than ever before and some refocus is necessary. This is due to the last decade and half of accelerated innovation and waves of entrepreneurial creativity. Today companies of all shapes and sizes are embracing product management in their organization structure and many of them have a rather ambiguous set of expectations.
In the past couple of months several people asked me the following questions:
- I am trying to internally move to product management in my organization — How do I prepare myself?
- What is the difference between product management and project management or product manager and a project manager?
- I am looking for a product management opportunity can you help? Here is my resume… (A 6 page debrief of all the technical project I have touched in any way since the last 12 years)
These are people with a lot of experience working in companies of all shapes and sizes, serving senior technology functions, project management, engineering management, recruitment etc. Some of these people are either already involved with or will soon be involved in the process of hiring product managers; and the ambiguity is just creating a ton of issues for future product management aspirants as well as the companies which are hoping to hire the right people fast.
The critical thinker and problem solver in me is pushing me to take a stab at refreshing the idea of who is a product leader, what is the role of product leadership (I prefer the world leader over the word manager and will be using product leader instead of product manager and product leadership instead of product management). I have spent the last week refreshing the materials which I have held close to my heart since April 2014; went through some of the bookmarked blogs, manifestos and some new materials available on the web. Strangely enough I could find a reasonable amount of consistency in the materials and the increase in ambiguity is not really justified and probably caused by either a lack of awareness or a shift of focus.
A bit of background here:
My product journey began in 2012 at Allscripts (the first product company I worked with), through a personal pursuit of studying competitors to advocate for embracing bleeding edge open source technology in Big Data Analytics. I was a cog in the wheel Data Consultant/Software Engineer, performing some internal product leadership functions along my run of the mill responsibilities of monitoring the data warehouse and working tickets; and needless to say, I was not able to have enough influence to get my ideas implemented in a ~5 Billion Dollar NASDAQ listed leader in Healthcare tech. Institute of Product Leadership came to our office campus in early 2014 and provided me the direction to influence the product decisions. 10th April 2014 was my first day in the executive MBA specializing in global product leadership and it was a rather unconventional start as we had to pitch our product ideas and go out and do real market research on day 1! For the next 3 months, I traveled in a bus for 16 hours one way every other week to attend classes. Finally on 11th July 2014, I left my job to try out my first real entrepreneurial experiment which financially failed but gave me enough exposure to wearing multiple hats and deciphering this ambiguity of product leadership at many levels. After accepting failure in my first startup, I joined another one in 2016 which played to my technical strengths and was challenging enough to add value to my career. Between 2016 and 2018 our product research lab group scaled from 1 to 7 full-time data scientists, 13 interns and 10 senior consultants who were professors in the Indian Institute of Technologies. By the time I left that project to move to Canada, we had delivered multiple POC’s, had our agile processes set up, some attrition to deal with and were on the verge of getting our first large business client along with a potential merger with a bay area startup with influx of fresh funds. Through the ups and downs in the past 4 years, I have faced the ambiguity of product management and I have taken notes which I hope to visually share through this post.
So what on earth is product leadership? who is a product leader? what are the responsibilities of a product leader?
Simply put, a product leader is “the primary person or group of people responsible for success or failure of a product”. Unfortunately, the simplicity does not help resolve the ambiguity. Let’s dig a bit deeper to find out what we can figure out from the Internet, after all we are in the information economy and surely we can figure this out. A search on product management metaphors leads to some interesting analogies with several perspectives and polarized community opinion! The word cloud above has the metaphors which I could find on the first page of my Google search results. I have collected the top metaphors used to define product management which I will go through in a future post.
It’s often easier to understand complex concepts visually, so lets explore further and see what are the various graphic representations of product leadership. The diagram below comprises of the most popular graphics representing product leaders and product leadership. They do a reasonably good job of highlighting the main area’s but I believe there is room for improvement.
Why do I want to create Yet Another Product Leadership Graphic?
Well, I find it ironic that all the proponents of thinking outside the box ends up representing product leadership in the form of a Venn diagram with a bunch of circles with segments in them or triangles with more triangles. If product leadership is ambiguous and variable and responsive and agile and accountable and adaptive etc. you get the point! then the how can a symmetrical shape represent the chaos of product leadership?! We need a more complex diagram like a mind map or a neural network (Did I mention that I have worked with data tools since 2010 and since 2012 immersed myself in Big Data Analytics and Machine Learning?)!
That’s enough drum-roll to introduce the 2018 graphic representation of #ProductLeadership –
I believe that the above #ProductLeadership diagram takes relevant elements of the product leadership metaphors and showcases the ambiguity of product management. Based on my experience, this is a close representation of the responsibilities of a true product leader. Let me know what you think about the representation and if it resonates with your understanding of #ProductManagement.
I intend to expand on the key areas of product leadership and cover the best practices and frameworks which are useful in being effective as a product leader. Join the conversation!
The post is my own thoughts and my own opinions which has been influenced by / includes some specific information from the following posts –
Product Management Metaphors:
Product Management Images: