Let’s face it, product management can be a tough job.
We often have a lot of responsibility yet little formal authority.There are multiple groups of stakeholders (customers, management, salespeople, support, etc.) who all have ideas and demands that they wish to see included in our products, which means we end up having to say “no” often. In some cases, we work in engineering-driven companies, which creates a culture where it is difficult to influence and have a big impact on the products we manage.
I also believe that product management can also be the most interesting job in the world.
Being able to set product strategy, lead your team to create products that your customers love, and be responsible for the overall success of a product can be exhilarating.
The one common factor that I have noticed about the best product managers is that they choose to work on products that they are very passionate about. It could be a passion for the technology, for solving a hard customer problem, or for changing the way customers work or play. Or it could be a passion for capturing a market and implementing a winning strategy. But, nonetheless, there is passion for what they are doing.
I have managed many different products in my career. In my experience, the times when I enjoyed my job the most were when I was working on something that I had tremendous passion for. At Apple, I was the product manager for the Macintosh Human Interface— though it was an incredibly difficult job, I loved what I was doing. At Symantec, I was in charge of C++ and Java development tools. Although the product didn’t excite me, the prospect of capturing the market when Java first appeared did excite me, and we managed to do just that.
So why is passion so important?
Even in the best of product management jobs there are always going to be some very difficult challenges.If you are working on something that you don’t care deeply about you simply won’t have the tenacity and persistence to do what needs to be done in order for the product to succeed. This drive to succeed has to come from within.No one can “command” you to be passionate about your product.I have seen many product managers fall into the trap of working on things they really don’t care about and ultimately they end up hurting their careers and chances for advancement.
The other reason that passion is so important is that it is infectious.
If your team sees that you are excited about and committed to what you are doing, it will carry over to them. Your salespeople will be more excited about selling your products. The engineers will be more excited about what they are building. And your company will know that your products are important and are going to succeed.
Life is short. Work on something that you really care about. If you aren’t doing this right now, make a commitment to make a change. Either make the change or else find some aspect about the products you are managing that can get you excited. Perhaps you can set a market share or revenue goal and get the corresponding strategy and tactics into place to see if you can make it happen. Or perhaps in parallel with your day-to-day work you can identify some unmet customer needs and help your company bring a brand new product to market. Whatever you do, don’t waste your life by working on something you don’t care about deeply.