Feeling a little "lost" in technical role as a new PM

Hi everybody,

I was scrolling the topics in this community the other day when attempting to understand more about my new profession and its background. I was fortunate enough to be able to transition into a Product Manager position after a little over a year of working in a more operational function inside a software company.

At my organization, PM is carried out a little bit differently from the “standard” (not that there is a norm); I am a PO for a dev team as well as a PM for x realm.

I’m having trouble figuring out what I SHOULD be doing as a PM right now. I doubt my actions every day, thinking “I should have done x, y, and z to be more like a PM,” due to my lack of formal training and the fact that I work for a company where I am left to fend for myself (something I don’t mind 90% of the time). Because my POwnership doesn’t take up all of my time, there are times when I feel a little lost because it’s expected of me to assist with operational issues (or at least give some understanding on what might have caused them).

I need to retrain my brain to be less reactive and more proactive because this is a new form of work for me.

Any assistance is greatly appreciated.

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After so many years in PM, I still feel lost, but I can’t say for everyone else here. Don’t let that bother you, keep getting better, and congratulations!

Don’t stress over what the “ideal PM” looks like, in my opinion. You might learn a lot working at a smaller company, which is what it sounds like you do. I’d advise you to look for opportunities to fill in the gaps on your staff. What can I do to offer value for the user and what can I do to make life easier for my team are fantastic places to start. Create ideas, rank them (for example, “create a roadmap”), and evaluate them using criteria you believe would indicate success.

I agree with Cracking the PM Career in terms of literature. Other books that have been useful to me are Extreme Ownership, Never Split the Difference, and Escaping the Build Trap. The majority aren’t PM books, but rather are focused more on communication, culture, and leadership, which I’ve found to be incredibly helpful in my professional life.

I’ve heard excellent things about the Reforge series if your employer has the funds, but I won’t be seeing it firsthand until the spring.

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True, being proactive sets exceptional project managers apart from average ones.

Three suggestions:

  1. Join product twitter and start participating.

  2. Read and follow blogs and product mailings.

  3. Speak with other PMs

You can learn how to be the greatest, most proactive PM you can be for YOUR environment by doing these things.

Marty Cagan has a very narrow, Silicon Valley perspective that does NOT sound like your environment.

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Mind suggesting the product people to follow on Twitter or how you connected with fellow PMs?

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@jackiebo: The woman who has gotten millions into product.

Author of Cracking the PM Interview and previously head of product at Asana. Constantly posting insights on how to be a better PM.

@tcordrey: Product leader at Instagram.

Constantly dissecting the state and future of PM. Loved her thread on PM as a discipline become more confusing than simpler.

@Jenyangwong: Already crushing it after 2 months on Twitter.

Product lead at Kyte. The magic of her tweets on PM will melt your brain. PM is all about bets and success.

@clairevo: Transparency, calling out bullshit, and consistent content. She inspires me as a parent, too.

CPO at Color. I feel her tweets on product leader cliches so hard. That will be my work day today.

@hpdailyrant: Discovery and UX expert helping PMs get smart on working with their colleagues.

Consistent high quality for years. Now at Pluralsight. Experience is about frames of reference!

Contniued…

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Continued…
@dreasaez: Awesome thought leadership on the intersection of product, marketing, and design - with experience in all areas.

Product marketer at Airfocus. Loved her recent take on the product subreddit. Interns shouldn’t be writing roadmaps.

@lissijean: Consistently great takes on academic and tech issues of our time.

Professor at HBS. Created CPO Accelerator. Love her tweet on product strategy following from company strategy.

@thelindazhang: Mind-blowing tweets about product.

Her tweet from last YEAR is still bouncing around in my brain. Zestimate let people be nosy. Unlocking emotions is magic.

@ckells19: Tweets with context and insight, ramping up on twitter really well.

Former Chief Product Officer at Bloom Diagnostics. The example of a community builder.

@patriciamou_: Counter-intuitive tweets that help you live a better life as a product person.

Sr PM at Calm. Loved her tweet on career ladders. Most promotions already undervalue you.

Continued…

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Continued…

@NeelChaks: Awesome podcaster, product person, and Twitter PM member.

PM at Palo Alto Networks. Loved her pushing us that most startups do not have too many PMs.

@impostorphyllis: A future CPO. Young PM, but not young on wisdom. Amazing insights daily.

PM at Redfin. Loved her tweet on being afraid to post. Just do it!

@stephanie_leue: One of the most consistent writers who is ramping up and hitting a huge inflection point of exponential growth.

Former PM at PayPal & Contentful, now consulting. I love her reality check on what being head of product is. Can confirm it doesn’t mean you get to make all the decisions.

@AASipos: the type of product person who loves data and understands engineers

PM at Oda, Ex-Skyscanner. Loved her recent tweet on ad-hoc SQL queries. Do them.

@lauraklein: The User and UX perspective double-clicked into for PMs.

Consistent writer, including UX for Lean Startups & Build Better Products. I loved her recent post, You aren’t your user.

Sorry, had to divide my post in multiple comments as this allows to mention only 5 user handles at a time.

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Wow @MarcoSilva…. That was super helpful, thank you!!

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Come up with a vision and roadmap in the space you own. Get feedback. Start executing against your roadmap. It’s really that simple.

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PM is more art than science. It is closer to running your own business than say, writing code or managing a laundry list of features.

You are filling the gaps of every aspect of the product. Every product/company has vastly different resource pools. You may need to play the role of UX, data analyst, QA, marketing, sales or service depend on the situation. Just like a small business owner needs to be cashier, inventory, waiter, marketing, etc.

Ultimately you just need to focus on:

Is your product growing in revenue / users?

Is your stakeholder happy? (This often involves delivering things not important to you, but important for someone senior)

Are you taking advantage of all the resources available to you to reduce your day-to-day operations so you can focus on more strategic things?

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@HeatherKurtz, Appreciate the comment, art more than science is a great way of putting it. Thanks for the advice!

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In order to bring solutions to market from the concept stage onward, a PM must fill any gaps or identify the appropriate resources inside the organization. Managing all deliverables and stakeholders can be difficult and frustrating.

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The emotion you’re experiencing is rather common, and it will largely persist whether you go to a different organization or project with a comparable job. To better grasp the critical elements of process or system design, try to ask your development team more direct questions.

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Yes, it’s a feeling I’m familiar with, but this role is different because there are fewer indicators of how I’m performing.

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I may suggest the book “Cracking the PM Career” to you. VERY helpful Look up posts about product managers on Medium as well. And after reading a few, just get to work. Get used to working and being flawed because no matter how much you read or receive guidance, each scenario will call for a new approach, and the only way you will learn this is by acting.

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Skip the whole “a good PM would have done X, Y, and Z” nonsense. Nobody has the time to do all the things the idealized PM would do, and most people spend years of their careers beating themselves up for not meeting an impossible bar.

Most PMs “should” spend their time focused at the intersection of their best skills and their team’s/customers’/stakeholders/etc. biggest needs. Sometimes, one of your best skills needs to be picking up new skills - and other times, it’s delegating :wink: I therefore think the correct answer to this question is deeply personal and project-dependent.

Some important questions you can ask yourself to get into a more proactive mindset are:

  • Did I neglect a PM task that was more important than what I did do?
  • Could I have known that at the time that I made the decision?
  • If yes, how can I make a better decision given the information I have available in the future? If no, is there a way I could be better at uncovering information that would have change my course for future projects?
  • Are there critical tasks that I am consistently neglecting, and what will I stop doing to make room?
  • What were key decision points in the project? Did we overcomplicate any of these decisions? Should certain choices have been made earlier?

These are all in the vein of running a personal mini-retro of both how you spend your time and how you make critical decisions. A “good” PM isn’t this idealized beast who collaborates with 30 teams a day and still has time to respond to emails - a good PM is someone who knows how to make best use of their strengths and compensate for their weaknesses.