A startup that doesn’t care about its product is a bit like a restaurant that doesn’t care about its food. That may seem hard to imagine at first, but if you think about it for a minute I’ll bet you know of at least one restaurant you’ve eaten at where this appears to be the case. It’s very easy to see the signs – poorly curated menus, classic dishes gone awry, food sloppily executed. These are the kind of places that leave you wondering, what are the people who work here so busy doing that they can’t ever bother to sit down and taste their own food? Or worse yet – do these people actually think this food is good?
This is also the case with startups who just can’t ever seem to imagine being their own customer. Arbitrary deadlines, technical and personnel constraints, or even technical and personnel strengths, can cloud a team’s judgement and lead to an ambiguous and un-impactful launch that never clearly communicates what the product is or who it’s for.
Fortunately though, things have started to change in this industry, and I’ve heard a lot of people lately talking about how much they “care about product.” But does “caring” mean that you know how to balance attaining business goals with creating user value? Or that you know how to work within technical and personnel constraints to achieve your desired outcomes? Does it help you know when some new and shiny technology or some brilliant new idea comes along whether it’s essential for launch or just another distraction? Is “caring about product” really enough, or does every startup really need a good product manager? And for that matter, what even makes a good product manager?
This last question is the one I recently posed to the Quora community:
I’ve worked with startups that have no product manager, CEOs who “play the role” of product manager, product advisors, and even one self-proclaimed “product guy.” As a UX designer, I’ve even had to fill in the role myself.
But, having never had the benefit of working with or as a dedicated product manager, I’d love to hear from others who have. What are the qualities that make a “good” product manager? How are they equipped to steer the company in a way that CEOs, advisors, or other team members are not? What value can a “good” product manager add that a whole team of people who “care about product?” can’t?
In my experience, “caring” is not enough. While the word is still out on exactly what makes a good product manager, I like to think that one person who can maintain vision and focus, make hard decisions, and achieve business goals while creating customer value can do more for a startup than whole team of people who simply “care.”