Product Management, like any other profession, is full of advice from people who have ‘been there, done that.’ And we love it. It’s so great to have a community full of passionate professionals who are keen to help others break into the industry. Or to make that transition, get that promotion, manage that team, and all of the things in between.
Product Managers learn from each other, and advice from experts can be an incredible asset.
However…there is another kind of advice. The kind we’ve all experience from time to time. Unsolicited, bad advice.
We asked our community on Facebook, ‘What’s the best PM advice you’ve ever been given? (WRONG ANSWERS ONLY 😂)’
And wow, is there ever some bad advice out there!
If you’re new to Product Management, you run the risk of actually listening to this bad advice and taking it as gospel, which you definitely don’t want to do.
So let’s go through some of the most common bad Product Management advice, and try to right some wrongs.
Work on the roadmap alone
The advice: Work on the roadmap completely in isolation. Take no input from anyone on anything, because this roadmap is yours and yours alone. Work on it until it is perfect, and then present it to everyone.
Why it’s bad advice: This is so wrong on so many levels. First of all, the person giving this advice assumes that the roadmap can ever be 100% right. Really, there’s no such thing as a flawless and finished roadmap. It’s a thing that exists in flux, and must always be able to change in case of pivots or new information.
If you realize halfway through product development that you’re not building as great a product as you thought you were, you need to be able to make adjustments to features, which means revisiting the roadmap and making some changes.
Secondly, this advice assumes that a Product Manager is the only person who could possibly have anything useful to add to the roadmap. But how could that be true when the Product Manager isn’t the only person working on the actual product? An architect doesn’t build an entire house by themselves! They need quotes from construction teams on how long things will take, how much certain materials will cost, when they can be delivered, etc.
The real advice: Don’t think of the roadmap as something that can ever really be ‘finished.’ Be open to changes and collaboration. A team that’s going to build a great product together, need to be able to build a great roadmap together too.
You rule over the engineers
The advice: As a Product Manager, all of product development is your responsibility, at both a macro and micro level. When it comes to engineers, you have to make sure they’re building everything the way you want it to be built. And you’ve got targets to reach, so don’t be afraid of telling them to hurry up if they’re working too slowly!
Why it’s bad advice: Thinking that you have any formal authority over your engineering team is a quick way to make enemies, especially with engineering leadership! You’re not the general of an army barking out orders and making sure things are done the way you want them to be.
Even if you have a technical background, there’s a good chance that you don’t know anywhere near as much about the tech the engineers are working with as well as they do. In most organizations, the engineering teams will have their own hierarchical structure and leadership to make sure things like quality checks are in place.
The real advice: A Product Manager is a collaborative role. If the engineers are working too slowly in comparison to the other teams, talk to them and find out why. Empathize with their problems and try to understand what can be done to get rid of whatever is getting in their way.
If the time constraints placed upon them turn out to be too restrictive, and it simply isn’t possible to build what you want in the time you want it, go back to the roadmap, communicate with everyone involved, and work to find new deadlines or new solutions.
You are a CEO
The advice: As a Product Manager, think of yourself as the CEO of the product. You have a top-down view of everything that’s going on, and a broad rather than deep understanding of all aspects of development. It’s a high level role than involves big picture thinking, and keeping everyone working towards the same goals as yours.
Why it’s bad advice: This is potentially the quickest way to lose the respect of your team members. Imagine if the Marketing Manager called themselves the CEO of marketing. It just doesn’t hit the ear right.
Thinking of yourself as the CEO overlooks something which is critically missing from your position — authority. The main problem with this is that you end up thinking of yourself as having much more formal authority than you really do.
It’s a good enough explanation of a PM role for anyone outside of tech, but within the product community, it’s really something we have to throw away!
The real advice: You have to work collaboratively with your product teams, and earn their respect. Being a Product Manager is all about knowing how to use your influence in place of formal authority. This means empathizing with your teams and finding a way to fix their pain points. It always means have a clear product strategy, and communicating it with everyone.
Gaining alignment early on, and having strong communication across all cross-functional teams is what makes the process of building a great product go smoothly. Not you having the power to tell people what to do.
The data doesn’t matter
The advice: Data is overrated, and doesn’t tell the whole story. What’s much more important are instincts and vision. Common sense is far more important than a bunch of random numbers. If you’re a real professional, there’s nothing that a graph can tell you!
Why it’s bad advice: While it’s true that you don’t need to be a complete data expert to be a Product Manager, you do need to respect and know how to work with data. Yes, sometimes your instincts are right. But when you’re just starting out in product, your instincts aren’t as finely tuned as you think they are. It takes years of experience.
Data helps you to understand something close to the objective truth. It can give you great insights on how your customers are using your product and why, how much they like it, what their pain points are, and opens up avenues for potential improvements.
The real advice: Always listen to your instincts, but see how they measure up against the data. If you have a hunch, follow it up with research and tests.
In product, you have to be able to give reasons for your decisions. You’re trying to gain the trust of your teams, which means helping your team mates to understand the ‘why’ behind all of your choices. As we’ve just mentioned, you need to influence without authority. In some situations, data is your authority.
If it’s something you don’t yet feel completely comfortable with, don’t shy away from it. Take the opportunity to learn. You need to be around data on a daily basis, so you’d better get used to it!
You’re not qualified to be a PM
The advice: The only way to become a Product Manager is to have a CS degree, and to already have been working in the tech world. You need to be able to code, whilst also having strong business management skills. By the way, you also need to know AI, blockchain, and quantum robotics…
Why it’s bad advice: It’s not so much advice as it is rejection, but sometimes you’ll have people telling you that you’re not ready to make the transition into product, or you’re not skilled, or unfortunately you chose the wrong degree when you were 18 years old.
The truth is that many paths lead to product. No two Product Management positions are the same, meaning that you just need to find the right one. If you have a technical background, you’re in a better position to work at the tech giants like Google, Apple and Microsoft. If your background is in something like marketing, business consultancy, or design, there’s still plenty of hope! Some of the best Product Leaders came from a variety of backgrounds with degrees in anything from economics to fine art.
The real advice: No matter where you’re at in your career, there’s a path to product for you. Whether you need to gain new skills, or consolidate your knowledge, one step forward is to pursue a certification in Product Management.
I’m Carlos González, CEO at Product School, and I enjoy sharing weekly tips for Product leaders!
This article was also published on The Product Management Blog.