It’s been close to three years since I moved away from full-time product management.
I thought I’d reflect on my previous role as a product manager and list why I’m happier as a software developer.
A friend — who was at a crossroads in his life a few months ago — asked whether he should go for software development or product management.
Here’s how I’d answer him today.
Downsides of Product Management
You tend to be in more meetings as a product manager because the success or failure of the whole project is on you.
You have no direct control of the project you’re leading. The best you can hope for is a good relationship with your software developers as they are the builders of the project.
You’re going to be evaluated on things you have no direct control of. The project is in your hands but you can’t hire or fire anyone from your team. You’re evaluated indirectly on what your developers build.
You’re going to be writing specs into user stories and talking to customers about what to build next.
Be prepared to embrace Sprint / Scrum methodologies. You’ll be grooming the backlog in Jira / Asana / TFS and dealing with burn down charts and velocities to explain to upper management why delays are happening.
Your technical skills will dull overtime as you’ll be focused on management rather than heads-down problem solving.
You think you’ll get to build what you want but you really won’t. It’s not your company. You’ll have to get your ideas approved with the higher ups. If they’re not on-board because it doesn’t align with company goals for this quarter, you’re not building it. This can be demotivating. A year or two of this and you’ll realize you’re a glorified manager and not a project designer or leader you thought you’d be as a product manager.
Upsides of Product Management
A good product manager is valuable to the team.
I’m sure the downsides I mentioned above wear away at the morale of a product manager over time and they become demoralized. That’s what happened to me at the tail-end of my own product management career.
When you have a good product manager leading your team — as a software developer — you will protect him because he protects you.
You know what many software developers can’t do? Lead a project to completion. You give them a task and if it requires reaching out to another department — forget about it.
A good PM will recognize that gap and fill it.
A good product manager doesn’t pretend to lead by dictating. He gets along with his team and connects the team to ensure it feels as one unit working together.
A good product manager will protect his team from customers and distractions from other departments like sales and marketing.
A good product manager won’t throw his team under the bus if things go awry and a good team will notice that and protect their product manager by not bullshitting him.