Good vs Bad Product Management

Giff Constable product management

A while ago, I gave a talk to NYC’s CTO School on product management (good vs bad, working with, hiring). The deck has existed on Slideshare, but I wanted to break it out here into 3 posts.

Product management, like “business development” and “UX” means many different things depending on the organization. But it does feel like the overall field is advancing in sophistication and self-awareness.

PMs are not a “one size fits all” group. One’s needs for the role heavily depend on industry, type of product, type of customer, stage of company and the team around them.

I sketched out a spider graph of traits.

As a hiring organization, you have to think about what you are looking for. Few people are good at everything. For example, an infrastructure play selling to engineers needs PMs with strong engineering skills. Alternatively, I know of a successful consumer-focused startup whose design team skews heavily towards visual design, so they need very UX-savvy product managers to complement.

All that said, I agree with Satya Patel who said, “You need to hire PMs for attitude over aptitude.” Here is my riff on Ben Horowitz’s famous good PM/bad PM post, with 12 attitude traits of a good product manager.

Part 1: 12 Traits of a Good PM

Good PM: Leads and serves at the same time
Bad PM: Thinks managing people means telling them what to do and how to do it (aka “requirements”)

Good PM: Has great product ideas, but spends as much time fostering the creativity of the team
Bad PM: Thinks their ideas (or their boss’ ideas) are God’s gift

Good PM: Can balance a healthy obsession with data and experiment-driven development, along with a healthy respect for vision, risk and intuition
Bad PM: Pegs either end of the spectrum, with total worship or total rejection of metrics

Good PM: Deeply understands the customer’s needs and behavior through direct contact, not indirect research
Bad PM: Hides behind the sales team, the customer support team, the Gartner Group reports

Good PM: Understands the power of focus and simplicity
Bad PM: Thinks more features are always better

Good PM: Is a master at managing everyone’s expectations while making people feel listened to and respected
Bad PM: Forgets that their constituency is people above, below, across and even outside the company

Good PM: Understands tech debt − they might ask for it, but they will fight to pay it down later
Bad PM: Thinks the engineers just need to work harder because customer-facing features are all that matter

Good PM:
1. knows when an outcome is necessary, and efficiently iterates until it is accomplished;
2. also knows when a deadline is necessary, and ruthlessly manages scope;
3. also Knows when a feature output is necessary, and effectively manages timing.
Bad PM:
1. Can’t even think about outcomes − can only think about the next feature to ship
2. Promises fixed scope against fixed deadlines
3. Is not pragmatic enough to do what needs being done, or even understand it

Good PM: Feels responsible for how the product is bought, sold, and marketed
Bad PM: Thinks their job stops once the feature is shipped

Good PM: Takes the time to deeply understand the production process across all functions
Bad PM: Thinks everything takes a weekend to build, because they don’t have a clue

Good PM: Can come from any discipline, but knows their job is to balance across all disciplines now
Bad PM: Can’t stop meddling in the area they know best, and favors it when compromise is needed

Good PM: Ships
Bad PM: Blames