Know Enough

Domain Knowledge vs. Product Management skills, which is better? In this post, I posit that it is sufficient to "know enough" domain knowledge

Know Enough

Having participated recently in the screening process for a product management position we are seeking to fill, scanning through a curated list of resumes, I was taken aback by the wide range of competencies that I saw.

Then, while perusing Twitter, I saw a prescient post: “A Product Manager doesn’t need to know it all. they need to know enough“. This was part of a discussion about whether a product manager needed to be conversant in some hot new framework to be effective leading the team. It appears that this person had a wise boss that said, “you don’t need to be an expert, you just need to know enough.”

Truer words have never been said.

Back to the sorting, ranking, and (often) round-filing the applicants. The number of people who had a CS degree, a year or two experience in some software team, and now convinced that they are God’s gift to product management because of reasons.

The allure of product management seems to be on the rise, and a lot of developers, especially early career engineers, are hell bent on breaking into the role. Long before they are ready.

Sure, many of them have gone through an MBA program. Or some other Udemy track of preparation. But universally, they lack an empathy for customers that can only come with prolonged, painful interactions with repeated facepalming and helping customers navigate edge cases, corner cases, and some seriously messed up shit.

As Steven Haines poignantly notes, product manager is not a career prepared for, but most often an accidental mash up of your prior experiences, and a role that you often fall into. The old guard (my generation) fell into the role from a variety of seed positions, but usually with many common attributes that are make or break for success.

Sure, Google, Facebook and others have associate product manager positions targeting fresh outs, and early career developers/engineers to groom them for product management. But I have interacted with several of these individuals, and without putting a finger on it, they lack something that inspires me to consider them for the role. I am sure that they are great programs tuned to their internal needs, and fill a pipeline with talent, but I am hesitant to consider that a great path to the role.

I posit that it is these early career, accelerator programs, that are filling my inbox with meh applicants. Sure they interview well, but try to get them outside their narrow domain focus, and the confidence/competence trails off to nil. I really want someone who has had a project go completely off the rails. Who has had to deal with a crisis that prevents shipping. That has had to deal with a recalcitrant engineer (or three.) Someone who has some color in their background.

I am looking for someone with “enough” knowledge, some battle scars, and a track record for being able to handle the messier bits of product management in a very large enterprise (read: lots of rules, processes, and governance required) with aplomb. None of the up and comers fit that bill.

Side note: I would like to murder the person/people who perpetuate the myth of a double sided, single page resume. Dammit, I am seeking a seasoned product manager. That is not something that fits into two pages, unless you are printing in microfilm. I want to see the history, the progressions. I do not want to have cherry picked past roles merely to fit the form.

And for the love of God, do submit a cover letter.