What Do You DO For A Living Anyhow?
At a recent family gathering, the topic of conversation somehow turned to work, and my sister-in-law turned to me with a puzzled look on her face and said “Your brother and I have talked about this before, and neither of us can figure this out. What exactly is it that you do anyhow?” This prompted a flurry of “Office Space” quotes culminating with my brother exclaiming “I have people skills!! I am good at dealing with people. Can’t you understand that?”. We all had a good laugh, but then I actually had to answer the question. At times like that, I sometimes feel like Tom Smykowski in Office Space, because it feels like a lot of what I do doesn’t have a very tangible description.
My sister-in-law is a journalist, my brother is a firefighter, my mother was a nurse; I’m a product manager – huh? So tell me again, what would you say it is that you DO here?
Well, there’s the definition of Product Manager according to Wikipedia: A Product Manager investigates, selects and develops products for an organization, performing the activities of Product Management. Of course, most people not familiar with a product manager role would then probably ask – what is “product management”? For me, I like this definition courtesy of Mind The Product: the intersection of business, technology and user experience.
As someone who “grew up” as a technologist, people often think that I’m an IT person, and for some people, that runs the gamut from writing code to installing hardware and running networks. While I do like to think of myself as capable of doing just about anything relating to computers, the reality is that most true “IT” tasks would require a bit of a learning curve for me. Most of my background is in software development, building client-facing systems and tools, which has provided me with a strong sense of the business and of what makes sense for the end user. Put all of that experience together, and you’ve got the makings of a product manager.
That still doesn’t really describe what I do, though, does it? Well, generally speaking, it’s my job to understand the problems that our customers face, and drive the creation of products that solve those problems. Since most problems continuously evolve, and very few products are ever really “done”, I’m also responsible for responding to those evolving needs, by creating and managing to a “product roadmap” – a plan that sets out how the product will evolve in the future based on available resources. Perhaps the hardest part of the job is deciding what to include and what to leave out of the roadmap – there’s never a shortage of ideas and opinions on what will make our products better, but you can’t (and don’t want to) do it all. You need to select the RIGHT features and deliver them at the RIGHT time, and sometimes that means fighting pressure from clients, peers and executives.