The Life and Strife of Product Managers
Getting better at Product Management is hard.
How can you improve if there seems to be no consistent definition of the role? Every industry, and every company, has a different idea of what Product Managers should do. Even the name of the role varies!
Many find it hard to teach because of its variance and unpredictability, and so experience winds up being the best teacher. To grow even faster, look for product people in adjacent roles and trade learnings.
What Any Sane Product Person Would Do
A few product folks from Denver-based Ibotta realized that you can only get so many reps on your own. The same tricks work only so many times as markets, teams, products and technologies constantly change.
PMs over time develop blindspots and bad habits, and recognizing them is critical to shipping better product. Reading a bunch of blogs (ahem) didn’t really help – we wanted the gory details from people who we trusted wouldn’t sugarcoat anything.
To that end, we started swapping notes over a Friday coffee to help get ourselves unblocked. Whether it be frustrations, successes, new ideas or just plain venting, talking it out helped inspire new ideas. Others’ viewpoints cleared the fog obscuring our problems.
So we then did what any enterprising product people do and started a podcast. Others have these problems and want to hear us unpack them, surely. We kicked things off with a conversation about arguably product management’s most difficult — but most important — skill: saying ‘no’ to good ideas from smart people.
That’s Brilliant! But No.
How do you reject requests and ideas and still maintain healthy stakeholder relationships? Hint: it’s not easy. But by exchanging experiences and posing new strategies to try, we left our first episode empowered to advocate for our strategies with confidence. We didn’t expect anyone else to listen to us, but the microphones were pretty cool.
Once we found inspiration in our collective reflections, the ideas flooded in.
What’s an MVP really? Are OKRs all they’re cracked up to be? Can a consumer-facing PM become a Technical PM? How on earth do I run a meeting that doesn’t suck?
Over time, we realized that the questions consuming our professional thoughts weren’t ours alone. There was an audience, and that audience included ambitious product people looking to find their edge. So we kept talking.
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Levelling Up Your Product Game
Fast forward 30 episodes and turn on the mic for Product School’s founder and CEO, Carlos Gonzalez de Villaumbrosia. There are few folks who have inspired more product people or experienced more growth of the Product industry. Heck, in a lot of ways he’s defined the trajectory of the industry himself. Who better to talk to about what it takes to hack your product career than someone who has literally written the book on the subject?
Tune in to our episode with Carlos to learn about how to switch into product, what makes a PM stand out among his/her peers and what the most important product management skill will be three years from now. It’s worth a listen.
All of which brings us back to levelling up your product game. To take the next step, try to connect with someone who’s been there before. Tap your network, go to meetups or find that product person at your company who has walked the path you’re embarking upon. Ask about their decisions, why they made them and what they’d do differently next time.
Envision yourself in the same situation and think about how you might react. Talking through your challenges with others will give you a whole new perspective and knock loose a few new ideas. And of course, tune in to Product Coffee – we’ll keep it real.
Meet the Author
Jake Werlin is a Senior Product Manager at Ibotta, the fastest-growing consumer-facing technology company headquartered in Denver, Colorado. He leads the teams that work to deliver a quality reward redemption experience to Ibotta’s users.
He has almost 5 years of PM experience under his belt, 1+ of which have come at Ibotta and the rest at the B2B SaaS company PipelineDeals. He co-founded the Product Coffee podcast with 5 other Ibotta PMs in early 2019. In his free time, you can find him playing in Colorado’s Rocky Mountains.