PM for 1 year, feeling stuck, lacking autonomy

Hey folks. As the title says, I’ve been a PM for 1 year. Came from a non-technical background with some Javascript/Python in college, and a Product School bootcamp course. I used to be in tech support at my company before I was moved to the Product team.

Despite having been with the company for over 2 years I’ve never had a formal review. I’m told I do good work, but even though my title is PM on all of my projects I’m working with the director of product. They guide me in what to do, meet with leadership, and prioritize. I can speak up about what I think should be prioritized, but I’m not involved in those decisions directly.

My supervisor has other responsibilities, though, and I find myself with a decent amount of time where my to-do list is empty because I’m waiting for other people to get back to me.

PROBLEM: I’m not sure what to do with myself. Part of me feels like I should work on side projects at the company - but I’m not sure whether the work will be wasted if we decide not to do it/go in a different direction. I also regularly pull data and use SQL in my company, so I’m also considering a data analytics course to beef up my resume (and get me beyond my $80K, no equity, no bonus salary). And I’ve also been feeling disheartened with the sense that, if I need to be supervised this heavily, I must not be cut out to be a PM. I’m trying to reframe it as a mentorship opportunity, but with COVID stuff going on I’ve also been in a bad space mentally and my general motivation is shot.

Has anyone else experienced this kind of ennui in their careers? What helped revive/revitalize you?

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Reading this, it feels like the lack of autonomy you feel might be somewhat self-imposed. It’s not unheard of for a new PM (or new anything) to need extra mentorship and guidance early on. Why not challenge yourself with a new project that you have more autonomy over? Your manager might have ideas, or you can come up with some yourself. You mention considering “side projects” but why not work on a project directly related to your products, customers, or market? You mention that prioritization decisions are made at the leadership position. But a PM’s job isn’t solely to prioritize, and even if it were, there’s opportunity to arm your leadership with data and insights to make their prioritization decisions easier.

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@AmyWalker, That’s a good point, and I’m glad to hear that the mentorship/guidance isn’t odd. I guess I’ve been so used to jobs where I’m thrown into the deep end with minimal guidance that having someone helping me succeed feels weird, haha. And I like your idea - there’s a project proposal I’ve been kicking around in my brain for a bit, think it’s time to put together a brief with the research I’ve done and see what they think. Thank you for responding!

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As a PM (regardless of levels), one of your main responsibility is to look for opportunities that’ll help your team, company, and customers. When you’re starting out, instead of just executing on what you’re told to do, use these moments as learning opportunities. Dig deeper and ask your manager and leadership on why something is a priority. These learnings will help you think about other things you can work on.

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You need to understand that being mentored is not equal to having your job done for you. Your role as a PM is to maximize value, if your key stakeholders are doing their job well you’ll most likely not need to do a lot of adjustments - this is not necessarily a bad thing, especially if you’re being taught along the way.

Bare in mind you are a generalist not an expert in a given domain, if you’re talking to your CMO or director of marketing, the chances of you knowing more than him in his domain will be low, especially if he’s exceptional at his job. Your role would be to take his input and execute it in the best way possible. Execution is much more complicated than dishing out ideas and direction, most of the time.

Side note: A lot of people and especially junior PMs keep comparing themselves to some 1 in a billion people like Steve Jobs. That is not the ‘Real’ world for the most part. If you’re in a mature industry with very experienced stakeholders, the chances of revolutionizing the industry by yourself are very low, no matter how high of an IQ you have and how good your idea is.

I’m not a fan of suggesting ‘generic’ books which give you a better idea of what being a PM is all about, but I feel in your case the book will help: ‘Inspired: How to Create Tech Products Customers Love.’

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@YuriRoman, I like that approach, thank you!

@NaomiNwosu, Thanks so much for the detailed reply - it’s very helpful, and I appreciate the book recommendation. I think part of my fear is that I’m afraid that they’ll decide it’s not worth having someone who needs training (me) instead of someone who can execute on their own. Not much I can do if that’s what they decide, so I’ll focus on finding new ways to deliver value and getting my shit done.

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Have you shared this with your manager? Seems like he/she is not proactively giving you feedback which makes knowing where you stand difficult. This could because they’re too busy, feel uncomfortable, not sure it’s important to you, etc.

But you’re the one that’s most impacted in all of this, so it’s better to have an honest conversation than to be left wondering. 1 year is a long time to not feel like you’re progressing.

I was bored for over a year in a non-product role though which is why I left, but that’s not quite the situation that you’re in. I’ve now been at a startup where the PM role gets more challenging every month. Write about lessons learned on how to prioritize / get better here

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@Karan, Part of it is they’re super busy and I don’t want to be a nag. We have a weekly 1:1 for 30 minutes but it’s often eaten into with other meetings of theirs, or skipped altogether. Thank you for the link - I’m checking it out right now!

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@ShiyaoLiu, If I were you, I would make the agenda of the next 1:1 only about how you can improve, take stuff off their plate etc. If anything you will be less of a nag and more productive after you know where you stand. :slight_smile:

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Get some feedback from your peers and supervisors. If they haven’t done a review ask them if you could set one up (reviews should be 2 ways anyway)

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@MarioRomero, I’ve been asking for weeks for a review with my supervisor, and in the meantime been gathering information from coworkers like the head of engineering. Overall feedback has been positive, which is good, and I’m really hoping that during the formal review I can negotiate a salary bump. :wink: