The Product Manager Survival Guide

Everyone has an opinion about the product. Shareholders, suppliers, journalists, your neighbors and your tennis buddies.

But you are the product manager, and are called upon to think like a CEO. After all, all CEOs do is think about the product, right?

Fortunately, CEOs don’t just think about the product, and neither do product managers. Both are generalist roles, and in fact, the more information they keep and connect in their heads, the quicker they get to a working model, an MVP, whether it is a company or a product they’re building. Few people can actually connect all the information from various channels and draw the signal from the noise. Along with a sense of ownership and a bias for action, these are table stakes for CEOs and product managers. When you can think through all the dependencies, own the execution across them all, and affect the required changes, you’re in business.

Unlike the CEO, however, the product manager has to argue her case with others in the company, all the way up to the CEO. Data is usually a prop, not the story. No numbers game survives battle in the marketplace, but a logical story stands the test of time as long as its assumptions stay consistent. As Jeff Bezos says, base your story on things that don’t change.

Sometimes, though, your story must go against what the data says. You must go against what you know to be true, and this brings me to the final survival trait of a product manager: courage. When the data doesn’t add up with the signals you’ve learned to not ignore, you are in the unique position of making a difference. Before Flipkart, no one believed e-commerce was a serious business in India. There were no product managers, only “businessmen” and “managers”, both of who thrive on conventional wisdom.

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