So you Manage an Unsexy Product

Not every product management role is at the bleeding edge. That's OK, there is plenty of love needed for the rest of the market, and you can still make a significant difference

So you Manage an Unsexy Product
Photo by Andrea Donato on Unsplash

If you follow the #prodmgmt or #prodmktg hashtags on Twitter, and the ever-increasing variety of product management blogs, it would seem like every product management job is some leading edge, hyper tech start up product that is positioned to be the next Facebook, (or Dropbox, or {insert cool cloud technology}). However, it is much more likely that you work at a company that has a history, and that you will find yourself managing a ho-hum product, in a market that you may not be super excited about.

Example:  A foolish mistake on a recent trip found me without my toilet kit.  Yep, I forgot it hung in the bathroom.  Apart from my electric shaver, there wasn’t anything worth crying about.  But it did mean I needed to replace my shaver.  Bummer.

Doing a little search yielded many potential replacements, but it also prompted me to think about what I would do if I found myself in the role of Product Manager for Men’s Hygiene product(s). Yes, it is consumer products, and pretty far outside the true tech realm, or is it? Shavers are complex electro-mechanical systems, with power sources, precision components (motors, drive assemblies, blades, and some rudimentary control circuitry. It is in a well defined market, male hygiene, hair products, which will account for $27B in sales in the US (not all shavers, but encompasses all men’s grooming products).

If you were searching for a new job, would you be interested?  Could you get excited about the market?  The products?  If not, why?

Earlier in my career, I found myself managing a product that (at that time) had been in production for 35 years. The state of the art had shifted, strip chart readers replaced with dedicated microprocessors, and finally computer controls, but at the end of the day, it was the same basic concept and technology. I was horribly depressed, but one day at a trade show, a visitor put it all in perspective. A product that had been built consistently by your company (or its predecessors) for 35 years, and still sold 450 units a year (it was a measurement system for thin film deposition characterization) is by any objective standard a “success“. I poured my life into that product, growing it by 12% a year for the 6 years I was there, and taking the un-contested #1 position in the market, all with a shoestring engineering team, and a kick-ass operations group to build them.

How about if you found yourself managing a mature product, in a product line that was established, market leading, and boring?

The truth is that the majority of product management jobs fit this description. If you find yourself with a product that may be boring, or not exciting, remember that you can make a difference, you can drive new revenue, you can find new segments. You can, and should be successful with it. Don’t be disappointed that you are not at Apple, or Facebook.

Take aways:

  • Not all product management roles are for the glamorous, don’t be disappointed by your portfolio, but exploit it
  • I have yet to see any product that couldn’t benefit from a high quality product manager’s attention
  • Make a difference in your world and market, and you will be satisfied