We all treat our products with care, respect, and diligence. We agonise over decisions and strategic direction, we think deeply about product direction, we care about the experience our customers get and the impact we have on our businesses. It’s our job to make good decisions. In this talk from MTP Engage Hamburg, I look at why we seemingly treat our product management careers so differently and what we can do to change this.
We’ve all seen it play out, either ourselves or through others. A bad day in the office, a chance LinkedIn message, and before you know it, someone has moved jobs. This kind of serendipity is not a viable career strategy! It’s like a chance bit of customer feedback that we end up devoting a two-year roadmap to. It wouldn’t happen, because we all realise that serendipity is not a viable product strategy.
Why do people switch jobs?
We all have an innate need for love and belonging (remember Maslow’s hierarchy of needs). Knowing that we’re wanted by another group is good for our esteem – we’re in demand and it can help to damp down imposter syndrome (albeit only for a short-lived period).
But in these situations, we fall victim to the principal-agent problem. We delegate decisions to a third party, often a recruiter, and they act on our behalf. The problem with this is a potential conflict of interest. Our goals and aims – a job where we’re happy and fulfilled – may be different from the recruiter’s goals, which might be to place us somewhere with a high referral fee.
Find a mentor
Developing a long-term relationship with someone who can act as your mentor and provide advice and direction can help to get around this. Then you can start planning your product management career more strategically. Just as with a product, you should start with a vision. For our products, this might be “to create a world where anyone can belong anywhere” (AirBNB). For our careers, I believe we should frame this as “what do you want to be famous for?”. When you’re not in the room, what do people say about you? What’s your lasting impact? This isn’t to say everyone’s vision should be about having an ambitious product career; just as valid, if not more so, would be a vision to “be the best parent I can be” or similar.
Once we’ve got our vision, we can begin to formulate a strategy that begins to bring this to life. I’ve worked up the career canvas, below, as a way of helping frame your strategy.
The roadmap: Now, Next, Later
By thinking through these key areas, you should now have a sense of how you’ll bring your vision to life through a roadmap.
Framing your roadmap as “Now”, “Next”, and “Later” can be really helpful as you’re less concerned with precise timings, and more with the outcomes you want to achieve. If you can articulate an outcome you’d like to achieve in five years, you can then engineer the roadmap to help you achieve it.
I’d like to run my own business, but in the absence of the idea that will spur me on to do this, I need my roadmap to provide me with the skills to have the best chance of success when I finally land on the idea. The outcomes I’ve looked for on my roadmap are about commerciality, building teams, and the underlying technology. Without knowing your end goal, your five-year ambition, it’s very difficult to assess if new opportunities are moving you in the right direction.
Measure your development
Once your roadmap is in place, you can think about measurement. Julia Nechaieva, a product manager at Google, has a great framework (the PM Daisy Framework) for measuring your development across 10 facets of product. I’d highly recommend checking out her article, Are you the product manager you really want to be? as it provides the best description I’ve come across.
Now move in the right direction
Once you’ve got these factors in place, arguably you’re starting to treat your career like you would your product. A clear vision, a strategy that helps achieve that vision, a roadmap that gets us closer to the vision in the short/medium term, and a way of measuring progress. These checks and balances should help you assess and understand which opportunities are right for you, and move you in the right direction.
Remember, treat your career like you treat your products.
View the slide deck from Treat your career like you treat your product.