Product Management Superpower: Empathy

Much has been said about product management having empathy for customers, but that is only half the story. Having empathy for your team and those around you is just as important

Product Management Superpower: Empathy
A life well lived. From Rick and Morty

A key to success at the role of Product Manager is to be able to immerse yourself in the customer’s situation, to be able to visualize their pain, their struggles, and how they grapple with incomplete solutions, looking to reduce that stress in their life.

And even if you are not a naturally empathetic person, you learn that skill, and apply it day in and day out in your role.

But, that is only half the story. As the product manager, you have a team who you work with to define, develop, and deliver these solutions to customer pain points. And all too often, this leads to a transactional relationship with your development team.

You provide requirements (or a backlog if you are the product owner too) and they deliver on those requirements. Your interactions with the team often sniped requests for status, or updates on the progress of a feature, or capabilities, and perhaps a quarterly push from you on the performance of the product in the market (although I have worked in environments where the engineering team was kept completely in the dark as to the performance of the product that they build - just insanity!)

However, your longevity, and success in product management is exponentially greater if you as the product manager takes the time to gain some empathy with the development team. Spend some time talking to them (if you are co-located), do they play softball on a team? Perhaps they bowl?  Maybe they are hunters. Find out if they have anything else going on in their lives.

You don’t actually have to care (I mean, you could be a sociopath), but showing empathy, and building a human bond with them is important. They see you as a person, not just the dude (or dudette) that tells them what is next to build. If there is a ritual at the launch of a major release (one place I worked at, the team went bowling for an afternoon after a major) go with them. If they play video games for 30 minutes at 4 PM, join in, even if you are the dead meat because you suck at the game.

Become part of the team, and I can assure you that their respect for you will grow tremendously. And when you have an emergency “oh shit” moment, they will step up, and handle it.

Time well spent.