Product Management Optimism

An optimistic view is required in product management, even when everything turns to crap. The things we tell ourselves.

Product Management Optimism
Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

Not a very long post today, but it is an important one. As a product manager, you need to appear optimistic, even in the face of monumental barriers to success. Your dev team, your operations team, your marketing team, they all look to you to be the north star moving forward.

And it can be tiring. It feels - to coin a word from Holden Caulfield - phony very often. As the product manager, you balance the business, the technology, the process, and the mechanics of building products for customers. While it would be great to be the chief of product for something that is iconic and has legions of dedicated fans (the iPhone for instance), most products and their product managers live in a muddier world.

This is especially true in the B2B space. You aren’t building a movement like the Smartphone revolution (usually). Rather, you are targeting a pain point, a struggle, a business process that needs to be simplified/streamlined/automated/improved and doing it in a way that enough companies will pay you money for the solution, enough money that you can be profitable, fund further development, and continue to work.

In this case, it is a lot like bowling. Sure, you can get lucky and score a strike (think SalesForce’s CRM solution that swept the world) or make an easy spare (solid win with achievable follow on’s that will grow the business. But often you will get the near impossible, the 7-10 pin split. And your follow up is neither easy to choose, nor likely to be a success.

And it is in these cases, that you, as the product manager, need to present a face that is positive, motivating, and filled with hope to the rest of the team, even though internally, your gut is roiling, and your fight or flight reflex is being triggered.

How I cope?

Seriously, I think some awful stuff internally, I lay out all the ways it could go belly up. I do a realistic risk analysis (far more “real” than often happens in a typical project), looking for all the ways it can go really off the rails, and then I try to knock off the worst cases, with incremental improvements.

But I always present a positive face to the outside. I do share the potential crapshow with leadership, but also the concrete actions we can or are taking to reduce it (because the total crapshow may happen, it is best to not surprise leadership negatively).

But coping? Early in my career, I drowned it with lots of beer, and other poor lifestyle choices. Later I went into a fitness stage, cycling and running my anxieties off. Lately, it manifests itself in night terrors and bouts of insomnia.

man pouring drink
Photo by Stanislav Ivanitskiy on Unsplash

That is coping, I guess.

But at work, I still put on the can-do look on my face and work to avoid the worst case or bad scenarios. And mostly, they are averted (or the risk wasn’t high enough, thankfully).

Then I work hard to celebrate the small victories, ensuring that the whole team participates in the wins and milestones. It works well, and years after I have moved on, I will cross paths with a former team member, and universally they thank me for the time we spent together.

In a way, that makes it all worthwhile.