I was working with a future mentee last week and we noticed a recurring theme to some of our discussions — that a large part of good Product Management results from limiting the number of choices that our teams and our executives have to choose from, so that they make decisions that reflect the actual priorities that should be driving our next moves. In most organizations, there is an almost unlimited number of ideas, concepts, directions, and motivations from which to choose — and trying to manage all of them at once is certain to drive any Product Manager insane in very short order. Rather, in order to ensure that we’re doing the right things at the right times, we need to be constantly limiting the possible permutations upon which we drive decisions so that we can be sure that we’re moving in the right direction while being open to new ideas and concepts!
Several times in my career, I’ve joked to someone or another that my next job title will be “Senior Cat Herder” rather than “Senior Product Manager” — and for good reason. Cats, for all of their cuddly cuteness, are independent problem solvers, much like most of the better developers that I’ve worked with.
Add to the problem the fact that as a Product Manager we typically don’t have any direct authority over our development teams — while we can prioritize the work that they’re charged with doing, and we can (sometimes) influence the way in which they build their solutions to the problems that we’ve stated, we lack the kind of direct management influence that lends itself to “control” over those teams. And, when a Product Manager who doesn’t have such authority oversteps his or her boundaries, and becomes a directive manager of those development and testing teams, it’s almost inevitable that it backfires, amidst charges of “micromanagement” and “you’re not my boss!”
And, ultimately, they’re right – you’re not their boss. You’re their colleague. Like it or not, you’re a fellow cat, not some pack leader of a wolf clan.