Over the past year I've been talking to dozens of product managers through my 'product talk' conversations. For those of you who are unfamiliar, these are hour-long, one on one conversations where we hang out and talk about our perspective of product management 1.
During these conversations there is one theme that keeps coming up; one that I like to refer to as the case of 'not enough product manager'. Here's how it usually goes: The other person and I are talking about our day to day and different things we do as part of our roles, and at some point they will say something along the lines of "I'm not doing everything a product manager does, only X and Y" or "I know it doesn't count as product management but I'm working on X" and the occasional "I know that product managers should be doing X and I'm working on Y and Z".
At this point the first thing I want to do is shout "YOU ARE ENOUGH!" into my screen, but my conversational manners get the better of me. After hearing the 'not enough product manager' in different variations I started asking questions: why do so many 2 product managers who are, in my humble opinion, great at what they do feel that they are not meeting expectations?
my product management is (somewhat) different than yours
As a profession, product management is evolving and branching out in a dazzling manner: Between the what's considered 'core' product skills and unique needs of organizations there an abundance of job descriptions and tools available for product managers to adopt and expand the horizons of the profession.
Because there is so much good frameworks and writings out there about what a product manager 'should' be doing, it's easy to think that a product manager should be doing everything on the laundry list. In real life, however, while the core of product management within the organization is similar, the emphasis on certain aspects of the role which dictate the day to day life is depends on the organizational goals, structure and the nature of stakeholders.
In my conversations with product managers this comes up as a gap between the expectations coming into the role and what the person does in their day to day. As a product manager for a medium size company told me -
"When I got into the role I thought I was going to do a lot of product discovery, understand the users' needs and come up with solutions based on that. Over time I found that the company doesn't want to dedicate resources to discovery and put more emphasis on feature management and deliverables. I feel that I'm doing some parts of product management but not others"
Which brings me to the next component of 'not enough product manager' -
comparing ourselves to other PMs
As professionals and constant learners, we are exposed to a huge variety of information from our peers: Companies we follow publish articles on frameworks and methodologies they use, we participate in product related discussions in online communities and get exposure to information coming out of high-visibility product management programs and courses. I literally have two books on my table from two great CEOs on how they run their product organizations, and both have different and valid philosophy.
Coming back from learning about product management in other organizations into our own world bring up comparisons. While comparison can be helpful in uncovering knowledge gaps and points of interest, they can also trigger the 'not enough'.
Here's a paraphrase of what a senior PM told me in a conversation -
I've been following this product manager from another company on Twitter and the methods and form of thinking they use is so advanced in comparison to my organization and how I work on things in my day-to-day, I feel that when I'm not implementing those advanced frameworks at my workplace I'm not practicing product management to its full extent.
on being enough
I wish I could claim that I'm some sort of zen-master that's above the feelings of vagueness and comparisons, I'm not. However, with product experience and self-reflecting I practice I learned a few things that may be helpful if you find yourself caught in the 'I'm not enough' similar mindset.
Regardless of what your day to day as a product manager looks like, whether aspiring or senior, it's the identity you adopt that determine who you are: You are a problem solver, dedicated to understanding the ecosystem your consumers live in, identifying their pain points and think about ways you can build a better world of them. This kernel of truth is what I defer to when feelings of not being enough are creeping in - I am enough because I advocate for the people using my products and I'm entrusted with the privilege of building something for them.
Adopting empathy and curiosity in the context of a product (also in life, but we're product focused here) isn't something you need a product manager certification or a special title for: As an aspiring product manager, developing product sense and asking 'why things are built the way they are' and 'how could this be better' isn't something that's gated behind that product gig you're after.
Personally, being enough is about the ongoing process of getting clarity around the evolution of my role within the organization and the skillset required for tomorrow's challenges. Often times when I talk to people already working in product, they talk about dissatisfaction that comes from a gap between what was in their job description versus what their day to day actually look like and my perspective to that is one that examine the evolution of the role against the organizational business goals and mission.
Being enough is also embracing vulnerability and getting curious about my blind spots. This is how I solve for comparing myself to other professionals. Instead of channeling information I gather to 'I'm not enough', I get really interested: Because product management is so diverse there is always another framework, another job description or another set of skills to chase.
It also means that while I'm focusing on some of the aspects of product management, others may be focused on other parts that I don't get to practice - and that's where curiosity comes in: When I have my weekly meetings with product managers I get a glimpse into product management in other organizations and often items have a moment of "huh, that's a really important thing for a PM to be doing, I'll look into it" and incorporate it into my self-development sessions 3.
Just because you're not working thinking about X Y Z doesn't mean you're not enough of a product manager, just because you're volunteering as a product manager and not getting paid doesn't mean you're not enough.
You are enough, and you're awesome.
Learn more about my product talk meetings, feel free to schedule some some at - https://slashproject.co/product-talk/ ↩
That's not a hyperbolic 'so many', it's literally in 70% of my conversations ↩
Read more about how I practice my product skills of work at - https://slashproject.co/posts/2020/product-management-solitaire-things-i-do-to-keep-my-product-skills-sharp-off-work/ ↩