Old Dudes in Product

Be kind to your elders, they have truly "been there" and "done that". Odds are great that they have experienced just about any situation, and worked through it. And for that, they are invaluable.

Old Dudes in Product
Photo by Aleksandar Popovski on Unsplash

For a long time, product management was a transitory role, a stepping stone into bigger, more expansive things. Leading Marketing, or even a VP/GM role leading a business unit are common destinations for those in product management.

Of course, the last decade, the rise of SaaS products, a boom in design and UX have altered the calculus, but even today, product managers often are looking to their next rung to climb on the career progression ladder.

This is good. Sure, some people do wash out of product, as it really isn’t for everyone, but those who have stayed in the role, growing their skills, handling the stakeholders, managing their relationships with the development team, and all the myriad stressors in the inner workings of a product team are valuable assets. And they take those assets with them to bigger and better things.

They are veterans of many battles, crises, successes, and failures. They know what is supposed to happen, what is possible, what is unwise, and how to get things done.

I once attended a meeting of the SVPMA whose guest, Steven Haynes (author of “The Product Manager’s Desk Reference” mentioned the reality that most product managers didn’t plan to be product managers, they come to the role from some other position, and many of them that find themselves in the role quickly move on either out of frustration or to better things.

That has stuck with me over the years, and rings true.

But what if you find yourself as a product manager for say a decade or even more? Does that mean you have failed? Does that mean you can’t advance? I mean, how many directors or VP’s of product management can there be? Truth is, that if you want to climb the ladder, you are likely moving into a different role. And that is OK.

What if you are good at product management? You have the chops, you can do the strategic, and the transactional tactical duties. You enjoy being a product manager, frustrations and all. That makes you a valuable asset. And any organization should be glad to have you.

If you are a leader of product, and you are hiring, you will get plenty of resumes across your desk. Many will be fresh faced young’uns, eager and excited to dip their toes into the product management water, possibly with their fresh degree, or a certificate from a program from AIPMM, or 280Group, or Pragmatic, ready to show what they learned and can do.

That is fine, but trust me, when you see someone with 10, 15, or even 20 years experience, in a wide swath of technologies and products, one who has shipped hardware, software and/or services, give that resume a look. Because odds are good that one of those crusty old dudes might be worth their weight in gold. They have seen, dealt with, and solved many of the issues that you are likely to face.

That experience is something earned in the trenches, it hardens the product manager, it prepares them for the stresses that will swirl around an organization.

You don’t need a paddock full of these crusty old product managers, but you will want one of them. And when you find a good one, one that you can work with, one that fits the culture, you need to hire them.

Trust me on this. Experience matters.