3 Reasons You Shouldn’t Hire A Product Manager
FAO: businesses who actually need a different role.
Controversial, eh? But let’s explore this a little bit.
It takes a certain type of organization to get the product manager role right. In some places, despite the size of the business and whether you’re a team of one or thirty, it can be the case that the ‘product manager’ role is simply confused with that of a delivery manager, business analyst or project manager.
Businesses — they are different! Although there are many skills that overlap, let’s do it justice. Here’s a few tips on whether you need to avoid hiring a product manager, and instead opt for one of the other roles listed above. It’ll help you avoid under-utilizing your PM, and help your PM avoid feeling under-challenged.
So, to all businesses, here are 3 reasons not to hire a Product Manager:
You don’t think they need to speak to customers
If you’d rather avoid having a product manager speaking to customers directly, then consider whether you really have a fair view of what all customers want and need. Good research design is often underestimated, but comes as part of a PM’s toolkit. How do we explore, with the greatest degree of accuracy that we can, the extent to which our customers are happy with the service we provide? How do we ensure it’s a fair sample? How can we design questions that mean we can learn more from them?
You shouldn’t feel uncomfortable allowing them to shadow (or heck, even perform) a customer service role for a while. Get them to schedule and attend customer focus groups. Ensure they have time to be on the shop floor and shadow or interact with real customers.
No matter how well you think you have captured the essence of what your customers need, there are some things that data just doesn’t apprehend, that can be used for valuable insight. Don’t take this part lightly, as it’s an important step in validating ideas and understanding the customer’s needs overall, and isn’t just a one off activity. Although, if this makes you uncomfortable, consider hiring a delivery manager instead, so your own insights can be actioned.
You have a clear idea of what features you want to build
Give PMs a problem to solve, not a feature to build. Understandably, nobody walks into an established business with an empty backlog, and there will always be a balance of universally agreed and data-supported features requiring development, along with new challenges to solve. But new problems should be approached with a PM involved at the start, with a focus on what we’re trying to achieve, not how we’re going to get there. Let your PM figure out the latter!
If you’re not comfortable giving a product manager a target like ‘we want to reduce our rate of returns’, or ‘we want to increase our NPS by 5%’, and then allowing them to come up with the ‘how’, then you’re cutting them off at the knees in terms of creativity.
You’re not ready to give up the reins
Product managers are a smart group of people. I’ve worked with some who have a software development background, and some that come from a variety of industries and have transitioned into tech. All of those experiences contribute to a well rounded perspective, and in order to truly utilize a PM and allow them to build, measure and learn, you need to furnish them with nothing more than an objective, and then leave them to it!
If you’re absolutely certain of the direction you want to take your product, and know exactly how to get there, there’s not much left for your PM to do. Consider instead an engineering manager or tech lead.
I read an analogy once that made the whole thing make sense. A project manager is very much like a midwife. They will be there to help execute an objective for the short term, for example, the process of birth itself. However, the mother, in this scenario, is the product manager. Her role is key to developing, nurturing and maintaining a child in the long run. Both are important roles, but only you know which you actually need.