Why is product management so obsessed with tropes and bromides like "Top 1% Product Managers" and "Good Product Managers _____ Great Product Managers______"? Is it something unique about the profession? About people drawn to the profession? About broad curiosity about the role? Or all three? Or something else? 🤷🏼♂️
Something I've noticed stood out to me in your post: "They don't build, they don't design, and they don't manage."
The best PMs I've worked with were actually still makers but working more in reverse; ultimately they make time.
While time isn't a construct that's generated or produced it's more pared away as a great sculptor works in marble or clay. By removing the excesses they provide shape and form to any given day or week so the right activities can manifest great products and experiences. Carving the days into productive discussions, protected flow states for deep work, and managing expectations so everyone's able to find shared success is very much an art form rather than a science.
It may not be sexy but it's magical when working well.
This tracks so true to me. I think Marty Cagan's books first gave this idea that a Product Manager has to be a maniacally workaholic, insanely talented person to be good at their job, but then if they're that way already, they could probably do everything wrong and succeed...
This post really touches the core of my product management insecurities. However, i would posit that the PM pictured in this post is in the top 1% because he has 12 fingers and toes and not due to great vision; He obviously only has two eyes like every other PM. :)
Important topic, thank you John. My sense is that there are multiple factors at play, including but not limited to the general exclusivity, shiny veneer and walled gardens of Silicon Valley.
Going one level deeper. We must appreciate that PM often plays a ‘meta’ function on a team, and that the role often comes with a level of ‘primacy’ in the organizational context. Given that structure, PMs have an outsized contribution to the team’s range of potential outcomes.
This motivates our desire to identify the craft, skills, talent and tools required to be effective as a PM. But it also opens up the appetite to *differentiate* in an extreme, hyper-competitive and - at its worst - toxic manner. And potentially overly attribute those factors to innate traits.
For better or for worse (spoiler: it's clearly for worse), a major cultural value of modern product and product management is exclusivity. I'd argue this is a big part of where "product sense" comes from - you either have it or you don't and, if you don't, you can't be part of the club.
This Medium post from Carissa Gallo does a great job discussing this issue: https://gallocarissa.medium.com/the-biggest-problem-in-the-product-management-industry-is-its-exclusivity-1a9877537fd5
It's about power. For better or worse, PM is a power center in many organizations, and the implication is that if you want to vest power in someone, they should be strong in multiple disciplines to wield it responsibly. That's why you don't see "top 1% HRBP" articles. (The fact that HR decided they had to add "business partner" to their titles tells me how much they are NOT seen as a business partner by executive teams.) But you do see "top CEO" articles. Heck, HBR does a review every year of them.
I agree with you -- headlines like this are harmful and gatekeep-y. But if the point is to bring forth an author's viewpoint about what qualities and behaviors make a good versus great PM, I think that's still a fine topic of debate.
We do see people talking about 10x engineers all the time. I think we would for designers too if the word wasn’t so maligned with “aesthetic primadonna”.
I live with crippling imposter syndrome and reading things about 1% and hyper-performing make me even more self-conscious.
In my mind, an effective product manager is able to deliver what the organization and business partners need, when they need it, being able to read the tea leaves and adjust their approach accordingly is the true top tier characteristic that defines product managers and product management.
Great post John!
Wow, this is refreshing to read. Thank you John.
Thank you for this one! I’ve been thinking about this for a while as well and I also came to this conclusion that insecurity and ambiguity about the value of the pms and general imposter syndrome is behind our collective need to boast about our roles. It also made me think about the types of successful pms, and how it is so hard to properly define an IC track for product management, as the role itself varies so widely not just between organisations but also within organisations.