Product Managers as Amplifiers

Apr 12, 2021, 08:00

I often say that being a PM is like having superpowers.

You are constantly learning new things given the problem space you are working in. You have privileged access to all areas of your company and the most relevant discussions about your product and company's future.

But this kind of superpower comes with a heavy price.

First, your job description can change a lot depending on the company you are working for, and not everyone knows exactly what to expect from a PM. So doing a good job can mean very different things.

Second, interfacing with many areas and stakeholders means that you will have to constantly manage expectations and converge other points of view.

And lastly, you'll constantly interact with domain experts who have deep knowledge in areas you're not comfortable with. It's easy to let the imposter syndrome kick in.

My goal here is to walk you through your role as a Product Manager and get the most of it without losing your mind or dragging your team down.

The Age of Infinite Leverage

In 2011, Marc Andreessen wrote his famous essay “Why Software Is Eating the World.”

He predicted that software would increasingly disrupt every industry and enable a new generation of companies that could significantly impact minimal resources.

Software has eaten the world because technology enabled us to have infinite leverage, to make our outputs orders of magnitude greater than our inputs.

“For example, a good software engineer, just by writing the right little piece of code and creating the right little application, can literally create half a billion dollars’ worth of value for a company. But ten engineers working ten times as hard, just because they choose the wrong model, the wrong product, wrote it the wrong way, or put in the wrong viral loop, have basically wasted their time. Inputs don’t match outputs, especially for leveraged workers.”

Excerpt from Almanack of Naval Ravikant

By being responsible for coordinating your product's success, side by side with a highly skilled multidisciplinary team, PMs are a decisive element of how high the impact of your team can be.

In a world of infinite leverage, the most significant impact you can achieve is helping your team focus on what really matters.

PMs are a central part of the product strategy and prioritization.Your core responsibility is to develop the best rationale for the next big lever to tackle and why it is crucial to pursue next.

Create meaningful connections

Being responsible for defining the "What and Why" to work on is a big deal and comes with great expectations.

These high expectations can lead to many side effects like imposter syndrome and fear of being vulnerable to your team.

It's ok to not knowing everything. Actually, being comfortable with not having enough knowledge or context around some subject is something you have to develop over time.

Your job is not to be the smartest person in the room. To have the answers to everything up front. You won't be the creative genius that will always come up with new breakthrough ideas.

“Simplicity is about subtracting the obvious and adding the meaningful.”

— John Maeda, from the book The Laws of Simplicity.

I love this quote from John Maeda, and I think it's a good proxy of how to think about your job as a Product Manager.

Your job is to get the most of your team and stakeholders. Be a true team player and foster healthy collaboration with domain experts.

To create an environment that eliminates the noise and facilitates meaningful connections with the expertise of everyone around you.

Lead by context

To maximize your impact, you have to be constantly gathering new context and connecting the dots.

1. Have frequent and consistent conversations with your end-users

This is one of the most essential parts of your job, yet I see many Product Managers failing to do so.

Having at least weekly conversations with your end-users is the primary source of quality insights you could possibly have.

It will increase your confidence in the problem space you are working and help you develop a better sense of the major pain points you have to solve.

These user insights are everything you need to facilitate better discussions with your team and stakeholders.

2. Spend quality time listening to your team and peers

Be deliberate and intentional in investing time to learn what success looks like from their perspective, with their unique set of skills.

Designers, Engineers, Customer Success, Data and Business experts, you name it. You are surrounded by many intelligent people with diverse perspectives and insights around your team's goals. Are you really listening to their arguments?

Spend quality time with them, aligning what problem to solve, why it is important and why now it's the best time to do so.

Bring relevant context to the table and pick their brains to open your mind and identify blind spots in your perspective.

3. Develop a relationship of trust with your stakeholders

Show them that you are genuinely committed to your team's goals, and you are a valuable partner to help them succeed on their business challenges.

Have frequent touchpoints to understand their concerns, new strategic context, and how it may connect or change the outcome that your team is trying to achieve.

Be always sharing significant findings, new opportunities, and your perspective on your team priorities to ensure everyone is on the same page and expectations are aligned.

Nail these three points, and you'll be amazed by how it can transform your way of thinking and increase your confidence.

Be an amplifier

Remember that you are a force multiplier, for good or for the bad.

When you act like a gatekeeper, trying to come up with the best rationale and prioritization by yourself, you will limit your team's potential and bring everyone down.

When you do your job right, acting as a trustable partner who is always seeking and sharing context with everyone involved, editing out the noise, and connecting the best insights, you can 10x your teams' impact on the business.

Don't try to be a hero, be a team player, and amplify the best ideas.

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