Product Managers, Did You Forget About the Product?

facebook twitter

As the person who’s responsible for owning the product, surely you as the product manager would know the product best. How could you forget about the product?

That’s probably the most ridiculous question you’ve ever heard as a product manager, right?

But as I mentioned above, you probably know the product inside and out. You can likely tell me the most intimate details about your product similar to how a parent could talk about their kids. For example, a parent would know things like what type of environment their kids are most comfortable in or how they’re supposed to behave, as well as the things that might cause them to melt down (bug out!). In a lot of ways, parents can even see attributes of themselves in their kids. In fact, the similarities between being a parent and a product manager are wildly fascinating to think about. So, again, how could a product manager forget about their product? Well, let’s meet Jon . . .

Jon is a technical product manager for a start-up that has recently begun to experience some exciting growth. As the PM, Jon is responsible for leading his team of developers, designers and testers as they build out solutions for the company’s flagship product. For Jon, a typical week looks something like this:

On Mondays and Wednesdays, Jon spends the day with the developers compiling code, launching to the simulator, and running the product on different devices to ensure cross-platform capability. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, he conducts customer interviews where he has his designers and maybe one or two developers listen in on the call. Those interviews are thorough and usually involve a ton of UI/UX scenarios for testing new solutions.

This weekly routine creates a beautiful Think It, Build It, Ship It, Tweak It framework that Jon brought over from his time working at Spotify.

Finally, on Fridays the team participates in Fresh Fridays where they get to have open discussion around fresh ideas for their product. A lot of times on Fridays, the team will do rapid prototyping and even try to get a small build of the idea up and running in code. Lunch is catered to the office, and the team usually gets out a bit early to kick off the weekend and recharge for the next week.

So far, does this fictional story sound familiar? If you’ve worked as a PM for any amount of time, it’s probably not hard to imagine how that story might describe your process and working rhythm. So, you might be asking, “How has Jon forgotten about the product?” Well, let me finish the story.

On Monday afternoons, Jon is responsible for giving a series of presentations to the company leaders. This meeting is called the Stakeholder Meeting where Jon will go through a massive PowerPoint with status updates, roadmap projections, team news and other relevant information about what they’ve been working on. The purpose of this meeting is for the stakeholders—typically the chief technology officer, VP of sales, director of marketing and usually the co-founders of the company—to get updates on where things are at and what the team is working on.

At a high level, Jon will have a PowerPoint presentation ready to answer these questions, but most of this meeting is stakeholders asking questions relevant to their line of business. The director of marketing might ask questions about how the new analytical tool integration is going. The chief technology officer might want to know how the developers are planning to migrate from one database solution to another. And of course, the co-founders are wondering when the next version of the app is going to be ready and whether the web version has caught up to the mobile version.

After it’s all said and done, Jon has left that weekly meeting having gone through a massive PowerPoint presentation while answering hundreds of questions. This meeting format is pretty typical, and usually, all of the stakeholders leave rather happy having gotten the opportunity to voice their priorities, ask a ton of questions, and hear directly from the lead PM on how and when their requests are going to get prioritized.

However, did you notice something about that meeting? Throughout that entire stakeholder meeting, Jon forgot something. In the middle of all the presentations, documents, questions and answers, the stakeholders never once actually laid eyes (or hands) on . . . the product! At the most important meeting of the week, the thing that’s driving the business forward and solving real customer problems—the product itself—wasn’t displayed once.

Jon unintentionally forgot about the product. And through all the PowerPoints, updates and rapid-fire Q&As, the stakeholders didn’t once get to see the product. What’s ironic is that because Jon is the PM, his top priority is to get this product in the hands of as many people as possible, yet no stakeholder got to see the product. How—or better yet, why—did that happen?

As you reflect on that question, understand that this story is not that uncommon. Sadly, a lot of product managers tend to assume that the leaders in their company already know everything there is to know about the product itself. Unfortunately, when this happens, it results in an unhealthy disconnect between the leaders (who are responsible for a lot of decisions) and the product they’re selling, marketing and promoting.

Forgetting about the product is a subtle thing that happens, and you might not even realize it’s happening. But the effects could really hurt growth and—even worse—throw off priorities between leadership and product teams.

Product managers, let this be a reminder to be intentional about keeping the product at the forefront of every discussion no matter who you’re talking to. When the director of marketing asks about that analytics integration, pull the product up and physically show where and how this integration would be in the app. When the VP of sales asks about a new feature they’re starting to promote, pull up the product and show them exactly where that feature lives (or will live!). When the co-founder asks about the web app versus the mobile app—you guessed it—pull up the web app and the mobile app and walk them through the actual product in that very moment.

You might remember that earlier I mentioned a few ways that being a parent and a product manager are similar. Well, just like you wouldn’t show up to a family event and forget the kids at home—don’t show up to meetings and forget the product!