Do you really want to be a PM?

Hey All!

The title of the category is “Becoming a product manager” and as a Product Manager, I always wonder “Do you really want to be a PM?” So I thought of sharing some realities about the product manager role that get lost in the hype.

Most of what I share is company dependent and it vary team by team within the same company. Read it, critique it and make your your call. This is my honest attempt to let all aspiring PMs know the not so good side of product management.

Here are some important facets to the job that should be carefully considered.

  • Product manager is a social role

I have seen lot of engineers and developers wanting to transition into Product, and the biggest hurdle I see is the extreme social nature of the role. As a PM, you are essentially a very technical sales and marketing business professional. You must learn to speak publicly, network at events, visit clients, build relationships with management, sell your product thesis. These are all the soft skills that are frequently missing in engineering roles and are critical to a PM. If you’re not comfortable in tense social situations, this position is not for you.

  • More often than not, you are the bad guy

Most people imagine the PM as a sort of “Steve Jobs” figure that receives praise for innovation and ingenuity…but that’s not the case for us working-class PMs. Instead, we always have to say NO to both internal requests and external requests if they don’t make business-sense or align with the roadmap. As a PM, our job is to keep the engineering team focused on building useful, client-needed functionality…but this takes time, and doesn’t always match what a particular sales person or client is currently screaming about. Also, if anything goes wrong with the product…defects, poor reception, odd side-effects…it’s usually the PM that takes the abuse.

  • The compensation isn’t always what it could be

PMs are a pretty well-paid role, commensurate with the value, experience, and responsibility the role requires. However, we are almost always salary, and our hard work is rarely ever rewarded with commissions. Most of the time, our bonuses are tied to the revenue generated by our products, which is the responsibility of the commission-earning sales folks. A sales rep who works a ton of overtime and closes a big deal can expect a big commission…a PM who works a ton of overtime may never see any additional income from the work. That’s just how it is at most places.

  • You rarely get to build what you want

This might be a corporate/public issue, but in general I have to build items that clients will pay for…and my product-lines already saturate my market segment. This means that I am often forced to forego a cool, workflow enhancing feature in favor something ‘sellable’, and often need to deal with comments like 'I already pay for the product, why do I have to pay for more features". Again, this goes back to the “sales-y” nature of the role.

  • You are a manager without any authority or direct reports.

You rely on others to complete your tasks, but you have no real means of direct authority. If you don’t have a great relationship with your development team, then it can be a disaster as no one really NEEDS to listen to you. Thus, all the normal methods of motivating as management don’t apply to PMs. You can’t tie goals to bonuses, you can’t reward with time off, you can’t hire/fire based on needs…you have to manage and influence creatively, which can be exhausting and frustrating if the relationships aren’t there.

That’s it for now, and please note that I’m simply trying to inform on some of the less advertised realities of the role.

If you have any questions, let me know.


This needs to be pinned at the top of this category. I’ve experienced all of those issues over my career as well, and I’d like to add my thoughts on the topic:

Your credibility is always on the line

As a PM, you are always expected to be the foremost authority on your product, and the product itself might live or die depending on your personal credibility. A salesperson can afford to exaggerate or schmooze, but you will quickly lose your audience’s respect if you mislead them about what your product can do, or if the product doesn’t live up to what you tell them it can do. You can’t afford to be wrong.

You eventually stop building things

Lower-level PM positions have a lot of hands-on design work, but this diminishes the higher up you go. Eventually you stop building the product completely, and you instead come up with higher-level roadmaps that the lower level PMs are responsible for executing. There are exceptions to this rule, but overall you will end up managing people instead of products.

The reward for a job well done is another, harder job

I stole this quote from one of my favorite authors, and I think it applies perfectly to PM work. You almost never get praised when the product does well, and forget about monetary compensation unless your product directly increases the value of company stock (and that you get paid in said stock). You only hear back from customers or colleagues when they’re unhappy with something, because as far as they’re concerned getting the product to do exactly what they want is the least that you could do for them. If you do your job well, your reward is most likely to be a set of larger and more complex features.

You have all of the responsibility and zero authority

In most organizations, a PM has little to no leverage to use against the engineers. You hopefully don’t need any, but if you hit a snag you simply don’t have a stick to fall back on if the carrot doesn’t work. And because you’ve been the contact between the engineers and everyone else, the latter will come howling for you if the engineering team fails to deliver.

This picture is much bleaker than the usual PM life, but you have to be prepared for these scenarios because they will inevitably come up during your career.

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Wow this is really great and really hits home with me.

I am relatively junior PM and some of the big things I’ve noted are;

  • You’re responsible for the success of a product but even more, the failure! so make sure you’re building the right thing
  • You will have to listen to all sides; engineers will push back on tasks, designers will question the needs and the business/sales team will constantly ask why their idea/thing isn’t being built
  • it can be a lonely role. Engineers, sales, design, data , marketing all have their own clicks - sometimes you feel on your own just doing your job
  • Following on from that it can be a thankless role. Often when a feature ships, designers or engineers might get praise for a great implementation, while the pm sits in the background planning the next big thing
  • There’s so much planning, planning and prioritization. Some times you feel like you need a break from planning the next thing to build. Some times you wish someone just told you what the next winning this was
  • you need to be thick skinned and be able to stand your ground. There can be negative people and complainers who constantly question your decisions. You must not take it personally
  • Finally a PM objectives and performance might be measured against the company’s objectives, targets or OKRs but (and this is a big but) your team often don’t have the same pressure or objectives. Your engineers, designer, data people just might not feel that same pressure to get stuff shipped as fast.

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