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Good & Bad Product Manager

A good product manager constantly thinks about about the happiness and efficiency of their team. They know that when a team feels unhappy with the product development process, they can’t make good products for customers, and they won’t enjoy their work. A good product manager will do formal retrospectives and gather informal feedback about projects, iterations, and processes. The goal is to always be learning and making improvements. 

A bad product manager thinks that driving people to work overtime and fit everything into a tight timeline will speed up product development. They think they are the “CEOs of the product” or “cat herders”, and see themselves as the people who have to convince others to do their jobs. They don’t trust their team members’ internal motivation to do good work.

A good product manager is relentlessly focused on reaching out to and listening to customers. Customers can easily reach them, or set up time to talk to them. They also reach out proactively to invite customers to talk to them—whether it be for usability testing, or in-depth interviews, or just to learn how they use the product. A good product manager also regularly communicates with customers about the product, its features, and how it can make their lives better. 

A bad product manager lets the roadmap be determined by every feature customers ask them to implement. The input a product manager receives from customers doesn’t become the basis for a roadmap. It is one of several inputs to help with the prioritization of the team’s work. A bad product manager listens for feature requests. A good product manager aims to understand the underlying and unmet customer needs that exist, and builds a strategy to meet those needs.

A good product manager facilitates the gathering of knowledge and ideas from the entire team, and distills it all down to an effective product strategy. They know that the best product insights and ideas are the result of the multiple and diverse perspectives of each team member. They know that their job is not to have the best ideas, but to extract those ideas from the team and then drive them forward. A good product manager also communicates the product’s overall strategy succinctly in a way that ensures team alignment.

A good product manager communicates priorities clearly and makes sure that those priorities are aligned with the product strategy and overall company objectives. They know how much a team can get done in a reasonable time, and they don’t try to game the system by sneaking in more than the team can handle. A good product manager doesn’t prioritize in isolation. They facilitate discussions with their team and balance customer, business, and technology needs to come up with a flexible but clear set of priorities for an upcoming work period.   

A good product manager is deep in the details of execution. They walk alongside the team and help them with functional specs, design direction, removing obstacles, and keeping everything on track. This sometimes means adjusting timelines or scope to do the right thing for the product and customers. 

A good product manager is always improving their craft, and contributes to the larger product management community by attending/speaking at conferences/meetups, and reading and writing about their experiences and learnings. They realize that they are in an ever-evolving role, and they embrace its fluid nature. They don’t go it alone, instead they seek out like-minded practitioners who love building great products, and they build lasting relationships within that community.

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