Is it just me or is product management becoming a cringe field? Especially on LinkedIn and Twitter. You know the type. Generic tech bro wannabe “thought leaders” endlessly circle-jerking themselves about frameworks and strategies discussed in the latest business self-help book. Most discussions about product management are about how product management is such a “hot field” and discussing why product management is so awesome rather than discussing product strategy itself. It often strikes me as a deeply “bullshit” field in the technical sense of meaningless corporate jobs (see the book “Bullshit Jobs”.) Sometimes it seems there are more product managers building products/schemes to help product managers get into the field of product management than there are actual product managers.
These “thought leaders” listen to Tim Ferris and every other productivity guru and fancy themselves the next Steve Jobs, or Marty Cagan. Yet these high-flying theories are usually just bullshit idealism that never gets actually implemented in the real world, which is much more messy and human than some idealized PM framework that I’ve never actually seen actually implemented except insofar as there is some hollow mechanical shell for “going through the motions.”
Product management is the new “agile” (or worse, SAFE). It’s often empty, meaningless hype driven by consultants and schools and the cottage industry of courses, books, and certificate programs.
Let’s be real with ourselves. We are not the heroes of the narrative. We are not the CEOs.
Lest you think I am too pessimistic, we are not irrelevant. There is value in the role of the modern PM. But can we not be so cringe in thinking ourselves these deep strategists saving the company? Almost all the value of the PM comes from being a SME and a good communicator, rather than some expert on “product strategy.” Marty Cagan is selling a luxury, not a day-to-day reality for most PMs.
I recognize the tone of this rant is a little harsh. And I’m being slightly tongue-in-cheek. But I feel like there is a silent majority of product managers who don’t work in FAANG companies that treat PMing as just another corporate gig, not some Savior role. I would be nothing without my dev teammates, but my devs would probably get on pretty well without me. That gives me a real sense of humility I see lacking in so much PM discourse online.
Anyone calling themselves thought leader will have a steep hill to climb to prove they are not a posturing moron.
I don’t – and would never – call myself a thought leader. In addition to being a PM, however, I also coach PMs, do product consulting, post on LinkedIn, and I’m currently working on a PM book. I do all this because I genuinely love product management and haven’t yet tired of it after seven years. I love thinking about how to do it better myself and especially love helping other people get into or get better at it.
You’re right that there’s a steep mountain of shit to climb out there. A difficult pill for me to swallow is that no matter what I do, many people will see me as a wannabe thought leader. (Even though my brand is sort of anti “ideal-thought-leader”: all my materials focus on what product is actually like and how to navigate, say, being asked to build a team strategy by a VP who has no strategy. The Simon Sineks of the world saying shit like “Good companies take care of their employees” and getting 30K upvotes can, frankly, go away.)
The sad truth, though, is that there’s no way to getting your ideas out there without being active on social media and hyping yourself up. You have to play the game, even with if you have the best of intentions. What makes that rewarding is when I hear that my blog helped someone, or someone reaches out to me to ask about getting into product.
Here is a post I read about questions to ask upwards when there’s little strategy in an org. There’s other posts about interviewing and communication as well.
There is nothing wrong about sharing knowledge. And of course you compete with a bunch of people. It is all about how you do it, and it seems like you do it in a good way.
I have read 4-5 comments in different posts in the prowess community, and I like it. The product strategy checklist is a very handy reminder I can keep at the front of my OneNote.
This and the “People don’t leave good bosses” and similar are also BS.
A thought leader who is going to disrupt the industry with their game changing strategy. cringe
A+ rant OP (@ShiyaoLiu).
Every part of your post screams truth of the role and how these wannabe cringy people have romanticised it.
@AhmadBashir, Yuuuup. I don’t know if it’s just a thing at my company, but all the PMs try so hard to be intellectual / philosophical and seen as leaders. I’m like it’s just a job lol give it a rest
I’m right there with you. I love this gig, and I’m a lifer, but I hate the meta-discourse around it. A lot of this bullshit is a function of PM becoming very highly paid, very selective, and not requiring hard engineering skills anymore - and the tech field (even in FAANG) being less demanding of absurd hours culture than IB, consulting, or pro services.
So, you get those people. The Ivy League > 3 years at McKinsey > MBA > PM path. The IB exits. The tiger-mom insecure overachiever bullshit artists. Not the people who are fascinated with complex systems, or who love tech, or who want to spend their days building / enabling the building of cool shit (why I got into it), but the people who want to use it as the new cool springboard to a CXO job.
Stuff would 100% get done without me, and fundamentally my job day to day is a shit umbrella to protect the engineers and designers from nonsense, and to guide the narrative. I’m not indispensable. Good PM makes a difference because we’re ideally the correct mix of technical and emotional intelligence to straddle the engineering and operational sides of the business, understand customer pain, and focus UX / Engineering on the most important problems.
That’s it. We’re not geniuses, 99% of the frameworks are bullshit, and the Marty Cagan perfect dreamworld doesn’t really exist. I mean, look at the companies he worked at. eBay? AOL? HP? I worked for HP as a consultant across multiple prod/dev functions. They were so legacy and so backward it’s hard to put into words. It is absolutely impossible that the utopias he describes exist at Hewlett Packard.
@MichaelYoffe, IIRC, Cagan does shit on HP quite a bit in Inspired. He cites his prior experiences as anti-patterns, not as the role model—for that he relies on FAANG, whether folks agree with them actually being the role model or not. (Spoiler: They’re not.)
For what it’s worth, I actually find utopian Marty’s bullshit helpful. On the other side of the spectrum, if you’re not viciously dogmatic about how things should be done, you get yes-men who come up with bullshit, overglorified project management bullshit like SAFe, who allow crusty, shitty, top-down places to convince themselves that the millions they spent in “Agile transformation” consultants and spent employee-hours on trainings has actually made them “Agile”, when nothing has changed about how leadership defines goals and strategy, and they are still tracking success by how many features the company has shipped.
@NathanEndicott, there is so much truth here.
I largely agree with OP’s sentiments, but I do appreciate the idealists who share frameworks, thought practices, discussion exercises, etc. because it give folks a reference point for a different way to work.
But also, as this comment says, none of that will be as impactful as any book suggests it will be if the leadership still hands down a feature or two every quarter that doesn’t require problem solving, it just requires feature output.
Fair comment. It’s been a while since I read it. But I’ve worked with a big company, and I’ve experience of their core retail infra (spoiler: the cobblers’ children have no shoes, it’s an absolute legacy baremetal nightmare), and I’ve worked in a place which 90% apes their dev culture too, and I’ve worked with another big company as a partner.
So, if he’s relying on FAANG as being this utopia, I have direct experience of one not being anything like he says, and indirect experience of another not being like he says. So, I’m going to stick with my point of “his utopia doesn’t actually exist.”
Isn’t utopia, by definition, imaginary? Not that I don’t agree with what you are saying, however the points above also are valid - striving for greatness doesn’t necessarily mean achieving it?
Na - he repeatedly directly says “Oh, in the very best empowered decentralised product orgs teams DO work like this”, which isn’t true.
Yup. The CEO of my company requires the pm team to submit quarterly spreadsheets that list all the new features being delivered so he can review and approve them.
Unfortunately, you’re falling into the build trap yourself. I’ve got a little over 10 years of experience developing products and over 6 years as a product manager and I am currently serving as a product delivery leader. In my opinion product managers need to be more in touch with the client and their problems than knowing the technical parts of the solution. If I had to choose between a marketing professional and a software engineer for the role of the product manager I would choose the marketing professional.
Hear me out!
If you feel like your team can do without you that’s because you are doing things that your team can already do! You ought to do things that they can’t do! Focus on customers, product positioning, marketing, cross functional collaboration etc. And if your current job doesn’t offer that opportunity, it’s the job that’s the problem, not the field!
Cagan’s books make me want to change professions. They are either unapplicable, impractical or common sense being regurgitated.
In addition to the thought leader collar poppers, you have these LinkedIn influencers with posts like “How I became a PM at Google using nothing but jazz hands and teeth whitener, but then left because of the hypocrisy of “dont be evil” but am now at MetaMcBoatFace, and you can do it too by smashing that connect and follow button and by clicking on my regurgitated links and by signing up for my change dot org petition and stay tuned for next week when I leave MetaMcBoatFace to join the WHO and finally solve the covid crisis by implementing Trello to track our backlog.”
All of this is steering PM towards a reputation like that of the snake oil and mlm salesmen.
@MariaWilson, I will say same thing is happening with certain parts of Software Engineering as well. So many grifters popping up in LinkedIn or YouTube with titles in bio like “Ex Googler”. What they don’t disclose is that they spent 1 year at Google and suddenly feel empowered to pontificate about the entire profession of engineering and how it works at every FAANG.