It’s been 2 years since I published “Managing Product = Managing Tension”. In the book I cover the common tensions inherent in managing products and offer practical ways in which product managers can deal with this. I’ve received a lot of positive reactions to the book from people who have recognised the challenges I outlined and appreciated the techniques proposed. The book has inspired a number of workshops and interactions which have led to valuable conversations with product managers about the challenges and pressures they face.
Since I published the book, I’ve observed a number of challenges that weren’t covered at the time, so I thought it might be useful to reflect on a couple of them here:
Project vs Product
There is still a lot of work to be done to move from a project to a product mindset – from outputs to outcomes. Whenever I compare notes with product peers or recruiters, it’s apparent that a lot of companies could benefit from transitioning to a more product-centric way of working. There isn’t one way to do product management or deliver value to customers, however all too often I see talented product people working on projects and related tasks (i.e. focused on output, moving from one project to the next) instead of doing product discovery and delivering customer value early and often. This doesn’t make them bad product managers. It just means that a lot of potential value isn’t being unlocked, value that could be significant to businesses and customers.
I believe it starts by asking these simple questions:
- Why is it important to solve this problem for our customers?
- What are we trying to achieve here?
- How do we ensure that our solution delivers these outcomes?
- How will we differentiate from our competitors?
- What are the product risks that we need to cater for?
This isn’t about ‘good vs bad product managers, but it’s disappointing to see product people not adding the value I know they can. The good news is that lots of organisations do have the desire to become more product and customer centric and are spending time and effort supporting their product people. For more on this topic, I highly recommend connecting with experienced product people like Pippa Topp, Iain McNeill, Petra Wille and Saeed Khan who do a lot of great work with teams to transition from project to product.
Tech layoffs and other disruptions
Recently there have been a number of layoff rounds at technology organisations, some more high profile than others. Whilst often necessary from a business point of view, redundancies and reorganisations are disruptive – for the people affected as well as for the organisation as a whole. It can cause the colleagues who remain to feel unsettled, sometimes needing time to adjust themselves or come to terms with the change in organisational direction. But as tough as it can be, it can also provide an opportunity for businesses and employees to take stock. We can take a step back and reflect on our ‘True North’. What is truly important? What is the business truly good at? I’ve been affected by layoffs and have seen firsthand the sobering effect on the organisation and its people. Redundancies are never easy, and I say that as someone who has sat on both sides of the table, but they do lead to a valuable period of introspection and reset which ultimately strengthens people and businesses alike.
I’m always impressed with the level of resilience and adjustment that people and organisations possess. Managing Product = Managing Tension covers what Scott Belsky calls ‘The Messy Middle’, describing the real journey for most companies and their people; it’s a collection of ups and downs all the way from start to finish. The companies that end up winning are those that adjust early and often, especially in the face of major business model disruptions such as generative AI or macro-economic circumstances. This level of agility comes from people and their mindset, supported by a set of repeatable product processes (think product discovery, decision-making and opportunity opportunity assessments).
Tensions are inherent in everything we do. As product managers we need to understand actual and potential tensions and the situations or systems in which these arise. There are a number of valuable tools out there that we can use to better manage this.
For my part, I continue to work with product people and teams to help them with discovery and goal-setting – please don’t hesitate to get in touch if you’re keen on 1:1 coaching or team workshops. Tensions are inherent in product management, they won’t go away but can be managed.