The Role of a Product Manager: Why You’re Not on the Spaceship 🚀
The PM as Mission Control
In the rocket ship analogy, the PM is often mistakenly identified as the person who plants the flag on planet Goal or one of the astronauts on the ship. However, the truth is that the PM actually represents the Mission Control back on Earth. The main task of a PM is to support and facilitate the team to achieve their mission. Product managers accomplish everything through others, and this should always be the fundamental guiding principle.
The PM as Sports Coach
The analogy that better represents the role of a PM is that of a sports coach. In this scenario, PMs don’t play, but are hired to support and guide the team towards achieving the company’s goals. Just like a coach, the PM is evaluated by the team’s success or failure, and it’s essential to cultivate a healthy team dynamic. The PM aligns everyone on a product strategy and enables the team to maximize their individual and collective potentials. Winning is the objective, and the PM should lead the team towards it.
The PM’s Role Depends on the Team’s Skills
The role of a PM changes depending on the team’s skills. If the PM is working with a team of fresh graduates, they should have a strong leadership approach, prescribing frameworks, goals, and organizing the project’s execution. If working with a team of equal skills, the PM should default to collaboration and aim to get buy-ins from everyone regarding strategy and execution. For a team that’s more experienced, the PM should adopt an assistant coach or trainer mindset and ask how they can be helpful, play a pure support role, and align with them.
Respecting Each Team Member’s Work
For a PM to build a high-performing team, empathy, and respect for all the work individuals undertake is mandatory. It’s vital to understand what each team member finds fun and intellectually stimulating versus mundane and repetitive. The creation of the ideal project conditions will enable the team to grow, feel deep ownership, and emotional investment in the project.
When the Captain Emerges
In sports teams, the captain typically emerges as a leader who holds the rest accountable. In product teams, the captain is generally an engineering or UX lead. PMs should work to elevate their influence on the team and make them a coach. While PMs should continue to lead strategy, giving up strategy might be beneficial to keep the captain engaged and feel true ownership.
The PM’s Task is to Ensure Team Performance
Coaches ensure the team practices regularly so they can perform at their peak. For product teams, development processes are crucial. Whether hardcore agile/scrum, “process-less” or a combination of both, the PM should ensure the team is trained to perform at their peak.
The role of a PM is not to be the jack of all trades, but instead to support the team in achieving the mission. PMs must lead, partner, or support the team depending on the skills and experience of each team member. They should have empathy and respect for everyone’s work, promote a healthy team dynamic, and cultivate captains who emerge as leaders. Winning is the objective, and the PM should play their role to ensure the team is trained, in a peak state of performance, and accomplishing the mission for the company.