I’ve been in several variations of that spot:
- a product that genuinely bored me
- a product that could not meet customer needs
- a product that was not adequately using my skills (I was too senior for the work)
- a general desire to have my work more directly positively impact the world, and to spend less time making more money for people who don’t need it
1 is usually solved by spending more time with customers, only requiring a job change if your company culture doesn’t allow for that. I firmly believe there are always interesting details if you dig deep enough.
2 is where I recommend switching companies or teams, after you’ve explored whether the product can get back on track. Sometimes there’s just so much accumulated “product debt” that actually addressing customer needs requires a near-total restart, and you’ll have missed the market. I ran into this on a product that had its entire workflow built around faulty assumptions, from use cases to target market to value prop. Everything was wrong and the thing needed to be sunset. If you’re not in a very senior role, you really don’t need to stick around for that.
For 3, you should discuss with your manager that you feel underutilized, and that you’d like to transfer the product to a more junior PM. You need to have a clearly defined strategy to help that person pick up, and ideally you mentor them for a bit. These conversations are easier in organization where people move fluidly between projects, and if there’s another area that fits your skillset that needs a PM.
4 is tricky and I encourage people to think deeply on this topic. If you believe in the basic tenets of economics, then people spend money on things when the transaction is a net benefit to them. “Boring enterprise software” is both beneficial to other companies and should make other people’s jobs easier - specifically, it should make all the annoying tasks at work take less time so people can spend more time on the parts of their job that they like. Software that needs a full-time administrator is shipping a job with every sale. And people deserve to have fun with seemingly purposeless consumer apps! So make sure you’re not engaging in too much black-and-white thinking here.
If you still want a clearer connection between your work and positive change, I suggest thinking about what you care about, what kinds of changes would make you happy. I think security, privacy, and compliance are really good starting points, with lots of job openings, employers willing to hire PMs who aren’t SMEs, and a great forward-looking outlook.
Other things beyond the obvious non-profit route (something like MITRE) would be working in the tech team at a newspaper or other public-interest publication, working on accessibility frameworks at a bigger company (anyone who sells to the government), working for government (local govs in particular have surprisingly interesting work), research labs, etc. Or, take the highest paying job you can find and donate 5-20%+ of your income to charity every year.
I want to mention that the most impactful roles are often where change is still underway. Somebody has to work on privacy at Facebook.