Is there a product manager in the house?

me_413Let’s first make a distinction between what seems to be the norm for product management in the bay area – and likely most internet companies. Essentially your role is to make sure that the developers are not blocked and can ship on time. This differs to the more traditional product management definition where you actually own a P&L for your product – i.e. you make sure that your product brings in more money than it cost to make and run. Occasionally another metric is substituted, such as unique users or page impressions – but this doesn’t work. If you can figure out how much your product costs to make in unique users, e.g. 1 man day = $X and 1 unique user = $Y, then you may as well just use dollars in the first place.

So then, in the first instance what do you actually need to do? Well, you need to look at what you actually want to ship. This is not always an easy task as you probably have more than one stakeholder. You’ve got a designer, a business owner, another designer, some partners or distributors, perhaps a micro-managing boss. All demanding that their feature/change/bug is more important than any other. And it still has to ship in 30 days.

If you can’t use actual dollars then how do you figure out what is more important? Well, something has to be better than it was before or you’re on a path to fail. One mediocre step at a time. In a year’s time where do we want to be? How about five years? Why is our product many times better than the products our competitors are making? No competitors – think again. If it takes time then you’re competing with any other time sink: TV, Facebook, a wife. If it costs money then, duh, you’re competing with anything that costs money. Thinking about users in this way makes it clear that you need to understand your target audience and how your product affects their lives. Does this feature/change/bug really matter at all? In a year’s time will this make your product the best in the industry? Will your users tell their friends.. and perhaps more importantly in our industry, can their friends actually use it?

So, if you work in dollars it’s thoretically easier to prioritise.. will this option make more money? If you don’t, you’d better have a good idea of what success looks like otherwise you’ll go one of two ways – analasis paralysis where we have so many decisions, and so many meetings about those decisions, that nothing gets done; or lord of the flies – whoever holds the spear gets to speak and unfortunately, he’s not always the one who knows what he’s doing.

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