Why I cringe when I hear the title “Product Manager”

The word “manage” makes me uncomfortable; less in the context of People, and more in the context of Products, especially Web products that are rapidly owned or discarded by users.

Why put the word Manager in the title of someone whose primary job is to invent, take calculated risks, and continually search for customer delight even in places that have nothing to do with the product’s existing ecosystem? The verbs that really matter for this widely known position are – search, formulate, invent, create, experiment, think, and listen.

Supervisors often use the word manage in situations where they want to imply ‘don’t fail’, or ‘don’t risk being hated’, ‘don’t throw away what we have’, ‘focus on short-term’, and ‘say no to anything disruptive’. No wonder we see companies inventing through acquisition when their products are no longer worth managing.

The title is important. It’s what one subconsciously feeds into the person’s mind; it defines what you should be thinking about in the shower, and it often decides who applies for this position. Often MBAs will apply, and not all MBAs can avoid managing.

In my past, I have been guilty of taking managing more seriously than inventing. Nowadays I feel sad for the Product when I meet a Product Manager who does not create the space to step back from managing and formulate his ideas with sufficient depth. Even if the idea were to fail, the learnings will be deep, and possibly reveal a new direction.

To all Product Managers out there, reclaim your primary verbs! A Product Torchbearer is what you are, even a Product Crusader if that’s what it is going to take to get users to take notice. Happy crusading!

“Be willing to invent. Be willing to fail, often. Be willing to be misunderstood for long periods of time.” – Jeff Bezos

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3 comments

  1. I think you have hit the nail on the head :) The post makes a lot of sense to me :)

  2. Vivek Vijayan

    “Product Owner” is more apt because it encompasses being a torchbearer, crusader and a lot more. Agree?

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