The role of product management in technology industries is relatively young when compared to other roles such as sales or marketing. One aspect of this youthful demeanor that’s largely defined the role in the past 20-30 years is that of a “jack of all trades” who steps in to fill gaps in an organization wherever they may be. This has had the unintended consequence of making the product manager a “master of none” due to the wide variety of responsibilities such an approach entails. When product managers spend most of their time helping sales, supporting marketing, driving development, or lending direct customer support, they neglect their role as true product leaders, and sacrificing a focused, well-defined role in exchange for the excitement of being the “go-to” person for a wide variety of stakeholders.
It’s time for the profession to step up and drop this traditional approach. The modern product landscape requires product managers who focus on discovery and validation, and who provide indirect support to other roles. Product managers need to stop being interventionists with regard to other responsibilities, and focus on doing their core jobs so well that the other reliant organizations in the company can take their outputs and run with them. We need to push marketing to cover the full gamut of their role; we need to push sales to rely on their own resources for empowerment; and we need to push development to rely less on direct product management involvement and more on their own informed decision-making.
Product managers need to set the context for the product, the customer, and their problems through which everyone else in the organization makes decisions and executes their role.
Product managers need to adopt the mantra of becoming “Masters of Product” — the ones in the organization who best understand the customer and their motivations. “Masters of Product” are the ones in the organization who are actively seeking out new and interesting problems to solve, and communicating those problems to others to run with. “Masters of Product” need to understand the fine line between supporting other teams and doing their jobs for them.
Such a transition does not come without pain, and it does not come without a price. As product managers step away from their “jack of all trades” approach, other teams will feel the loss and need to cope. This transition requires product managers to make such changes in a mindful, iterative approach — to step back incrementally and ensure that the teams who have relied on them in the past have the time and understanding to fill the gaps themselves.
Only when the profession has embraced the concept of becoming true “Masters of Product” can we reach the next step in our evolution. We can better define the parameters of the profession. We can offer more focused and detailed training and education opportunities. We can embrace each other with a common understanding of what the role is and what it isn’t, building stronger social and professional links. All too often we forget that the classic adage of being a “jack of all trades” is followed by the warning “master of none.” Product managers deserve to be the masters of their own destiny, and it is up to us to define what that destiny should be.