Considering heading out of product management

Dear All,

Since I have been working in product management for startups for approximately three years, I have become tired of the politics and ongoing reorganizations. I work in the educational IT industry, and I recently switched topics under a new management from one in which I had experience to one in which I had none. This manager insisted on meeting with me prior to every meeting I presided over in order to “give me guidance,” which I found both unnecessary and offensive.

As I just left my prior work for a similar reason, I recently heard that I am being demoted from my current position. This is the second time this has happened at a different firm. My teams admire me, but my organizations’ senior executives never seem to. I am considering leaving because I am willing to recognize that I am the issue and probably not a very good product manager. Anyone have any suggestions? I am stuck without any transferable skills because it looks like I am simply not built for this kind of work.


Actually, you have a lot of transferable skills. What aspects of product management do you find interesting?


I enjoy gathering end-user feedback, collaborating with technical teams to define processes around the product, and getting down to the nitty-gritty of technical solutions. Dislike the aspects of leadership and stakeholder management.


Do you know how to code? It sounds like you might like engineering manager positions. You should consider exploring this career path further. It could be a great fit for you given your interest and skills in coding. It could open up a lot of opportunities for you in the tech industry. It could lead to a fulfilling and successful career. As an engineering manager, you would have the chance to not only utilize your coding skills but also lead and mentor a team of engineers. This role often involves overseeing projects, making strategic decisions, and collaborating with other departments. It could provide a dynamic and challenging work environment that aligns with your interests and aspirations in the tech industry.


From what you mentioned here, these could be the problems.

  1. You know and love doing Core PM work but do not know how to communicate the value of your to the business stakeholders
  2. The company culture is not a right fit for you
  3. You do not know or enjoy being a PM

If its the last one, then pivot to another role. PMs can easily pivot to any role like Customer success, account management, etc. depending on your skillset.

But if its the other reasons then find a different company or build your skillset.


@DonovanOkang, yes, the value component that you indicate in your first point appears to be the root of my problem. It is frustrating and confusing, in my opinion, to believe that platform-related work is valuable yet leadership does not perceive it as being instantly beneficial.


I understand that you are currently facing a challenging situation in your career as a Product Manager within the educational tech startup space. It’s not uncommon to encounter obstacles and difficulties in any profession, and it’s important to carefully evaluate your options before making a decision. It’s also worth noting that your concerns about reshuffling, reorgs, and workplace politics are valid, as these can significantly impact one’s job satisfaction and overall well-being.

First and foremost, I want to assure you that your feelings of frustration and uncertainty are completely valid. It’s natural to question your career path, especially when you’re facing challenges that seem insurmountable. It’s important to take some time to reflect on your situation, your skills, and your long-term goals before making any hasty decisions.

Here are a few steps you might consider taking as you navigate this difficult situation:

  • Self-Reflection and Assessment: Take some time to reflect on your strengths, skills, and interests. Consider what aspects of your current role you enjoy and excel at, as well as the areas that you find challenging or unfulfilling. This self-assessment can help you gain clarity on whether the issues you’re facing are related to your role as a Product Manager or if there are specific challenges within your current organizations.
  • Communication with Your Manager: While you’ve mentioned feeling insulted by your new manager’s approach, it might be worth having an open and honest conversation with them. Express your concerns and feelings about the guidance you’re receiving and see if there’s a way to find common ground. Communication can sometimes help address misunderstandings and improve working relationships.
  • Seeking Mentorship and Guidance: If you’re feeling uncertain about your skills as a Product Manager, consider seeking mentorship or guidance from more experienced professionals in the field. Mentorship can provide valuable insights, advice, and support as you navigate your career decisions.
  • Exploring Transferable Skills: While you might feel that your skills are specific to Product Management, it’s worth exploring how your experience can translate to other roles or industries. Many skills, such as communication, project management, data analysis, and problem-solving, are transferable across various domains.
  • Career Pivot vs. Continued Growth: Reflect on whether your challenges are primarily related to Product Management as a whole or if they are specific to the organizations you’ve worked for. If you’re considering a career pivot, take the time to research and explore other fields or roles that align with your interests and strengths. Alternatively, if you’re passionate about staying in the tech industry, you could explore other roles within technology that don’t involve Product Management.
  • Professional Development: Consider investing in your professional development by taking courses or certifications in areas that interest you. This could help you build new skills and increase your confidence, whether you choose to continue in Product Management or explore other opportunities.
  • Networking and Job Search: If you do decide to explore other opportunities, networking can play a crucial role in finding a role that aligns with your interests and skills. Attend industry events, connect with professionals on platforms like LinkedIn, and consider reaching out to your professional network for advice and potential job leads.
  • Career Counseling or Coaching: If you’re feeling stuck and unsure about your next steps, consider seeking guidance from a career counselor or coach. They can help you navigate your options, set goals, and create a plan for your career transition, if that’s the route you decide to take.

Remember, it’s important to make decisions that align with your values, interests, and long-term goals. It’s okay to reassess your career path and make changes if necessary. The challenges you’re facing now can ultimately lead you to a more fulfilling and satisfying career.

While the decision to leave a role or industry is a significant one, it’s important to approach it with careful consideration and a well-thought-out plan. Your self-awareness, willingness to seek guidance, and dedication to your own growth will play a crucial role in shaping your future career path.


What are the feedback’s main themes? Have you changed anything as a result of the criticism?

Which responsibilities are different between the one you currently hold and the one you are being reduced to? Does this have any potential benefits, ego aside? Is this a potential step toward termination, too?


I work mostly with the data and back end (platform) teams, but I’m transitioning to a front end process job that is more user-focused. Since I’ve spent the majority of my three years in product working in technical teams, it is very much outside of my wheelhouse.


Do you feel comfortable responding to any of the other queries I asked?


@FlaviaBergstein, sorry, I’m not sure about the termination part. I actually have a quarterly performance assessment coming up next week that I’m dreading, so I’ll have to wait and see how that goes before I can better respond.

The new position is therefore more centered on working closely with educators on our platform and how they use it to do their job. I don’t want to get too particular, but it is extremely different from my previous experience working with infrastructure, software developers, and data. Not that I am awful at considering users and workflows; but, I did not want that from my career.


@JesusRojas, was one of the themes from the remarks you had previously gotten from your former and present managers understanding your clients’ goals and any frustrations or challenges they had in carrying out their work?


Is there a recurring pattern that’s leading to clashes with leadership? People-pleasing is a typical problem in product management, and depending on your history, it may even be subconscious. You won’t be able to win over everyone, and you’ll unavoidably offend someone.

Your strategy may favor frontline employees’ health and morale over top executives’ political and commercial objectives. Their separation from common day-to-day chores and challenges can make them less empathetic; they are frequently motivated by deadlines and objective facts, and if what you are telling them conflicts with their priorities, conflict will result.

It doesn’t seem like your talent as a product manager is the issue here, and you need to work on a certain soft skill to level up. You may need to make a cognitive change when you edit yourself for a particular audience.

If you ultimately decide that this isn’t the career route for you, there are non-technical persons emerging to fill technical project and engineering management responsibilities, so there are possibilities. I believe one of the most valuable transferrable skill sets in technology is in product management.


This resonates – Since I studied engineering, I am quite at ease with the technical solutions that my team promotes, and I would dearly love to continue working in that capacity. I simply don’t know how to customize my communications to business stakeholders, and I don’t know how to get better at it.

Do you have any advice for how to present yourself more effectively to business stakeholders?


Have you consider a Sales Support or Sales Engineering role ? Sounds like you would be awesome at that. It is still at the intersection of customer value and tech.


You might look for a job where you are more “at the service of the team” than you are “at the service of management” if your team likes you but top management doesn’t. Depending on your technical expertise, I’m considering APM, Scrum Master, CSM, and potentially QA, DA, or BA. That’s for a seamless changeover.


How can someone who lacks transferable abilities be a product manager? Very important question. It’s intended to provoke thought. Do you have a tech understanding, then, ed tech? Switch to technology sales? You are skilled with data and analysis. Become a data analyst? Have you got a grasp on scrum and agile? To become the scrum master?

Your team loves you, but leadership despises you. I’ve managed to think of three professions you might be able to pivot into despite the fact that you have no experience outside of being an Ed Tech PM.

To give you a little more insight, I would need additional information. Realize that you have a wide range of transferable abilities because being a PM is challenging and consider which ones you would value more than others.

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Admittedly I’ve been on the other side of it.

“My peers like me but my management doesn’t hate me” is a common response from folks to whom I give extra coaching and oversight.

What’s going on in those cases ranges between:

  • The person on my team is 75% positive, and the team is being honest – they do like them. But if the rest of my team is 90% positive, the 75% person is going to get the coaching.
  • The peers get better results with kindness, and have no incentive to give tough feedback.
  • The person isn’t good at hearing the feedback, so gently-worded feedback from peers comes off as positive.
  • Some peers play a resourcing game, i.e. anyone >0% is good. They build up all their peers like gods, even if they’re really not contributing, for fear the person gets taken away or loses motivation or quits, because >0% is strictly better than 0%.
  • Other folks are just so happy to have a PM assigned (we’re understaffed, it happens) that their bar is pretty low and they don’t know what to expect. They don’t know what a PM can do. So when I say “person X needs to be doing Z”, they respond with “but I appreciate Y so much!”. Then I have to teach the peers to raise their expectations as well.

One time I made the mistake of telling a person where the feedback came from. He went to that person, argued with them about it, made them feel bad, and they came back and tried to rescind the feedback. I said don’t worry about it, I had other feedback, I acted on a pattern, and I’m so sorry to bring up your name. I was furious with the person.

I have a hard time handling folks who come with “but my peers like me, why don’t you”. It’s very hard to overcome.

Anyway, I don’t know your particular situation, but that’s a pattern I’ve seen. If that’s not you, then I’m sorry for the situation and wish you the best luck!

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