Product Managers Aren’t Responsible for the Delivery of their Products
There has been a lot of talk recently about the role of product managers in companies, and the value that they bring to the table. Part of this is a continuation of an age-old debate, and part of it has been brought into focus by moves such as Airbnb and Stripe getting rid of product managers (which, of course, neither of them did). Now, I’m no fan of stories of Airbnb’s designers whooping with delight when they thought all the PMs were getting fired, but, on the other hand, we should always be willing to ask ourselves… what are we for?
In this post, I’m going to talk about what we’re not for, because it’s something that I’ve seen often on my travels, and I think it’s at the root of much of the bad feeling between product managers and their teammates. To cut a long story short, product managers are not responsible for the delivery of the products they manage.
What? Let me explain…
About that “manager” word
Product managers have a labelling problem. That pesky manager word has connotations for many people, especially in organisations that don’t have a history of strong product management practices. This can manifest itself in one of two ways (or both):
- A product manager who believes that they are the “leader” of their pod, or squad, or whatever they call their team. They’ll do things like refer to “my developers” and start allocating work items to individuals.
- Developers and designers treat the product manager as their boss, feeling that they have to run everything past the product manager. Things like standups become status updates as people start trying to justify how busy they are to the boss.
But, no one ever said that product managers are the boss. That pesky “manager” word! On the other hand, “product owner” has been devalued by so many organisations that it doesn’t feel right either. Maybe we need a different word, but until then, we need to accept the fact that product managers manage the products, not the teams that make the products, and certainly not every detail of the delivery of those products.