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This past weekend, I had the opportunity to give a talk on The Whole Product Manager at ProductCamp Austin. My thesis is simple. The traditional path to becoming a craftsman (or craftswoman) at product management, while paved with good intentions, often leads you to copy and paste territory – repeat the same and expect a different result. Great products get created when there is a relentless pursuit to product excellence. It is a life long journey rather than a formula that can be handed out in the form of a bunch of templates at a 3 day ‘product management training’ or a 2 year MBA program.
To be successful at product management we need both maker skills and meta skills. Maker skills are generally skipped by product managers and senior product leaders in their corporate ladder climbing activity. As they get into management positions, they lose the curiosity to learn and start ‘managing’ instead of producing anything. Even the PowerPoint slides they pitch are someone else’s work. Without the basic maker skills these product leaders lose the respect of their own teams, not to mention their inability to guide their teams or add significant value to the product development process. But maker skills alone aren’t sufficient. There’s very little emphasis in any cookie cutter product management training or on the job training, on how to build influence and lead teams indirectly. These are meta skills – the ability to scan the environment, sense various stakeholder motivations and needs, communicate effectively and lead the product to success. We need a deliberate effort to learn these skills.
Product management is an interdisciplinary subject. To excel at product management dedicating ourselves to the pursuit of excellence from the ground up is but one approach to craftsmanship.