Product Managers: Do the opposite!


If the product management surveys are to be believed, most product managers spend very little time doing the things we know that we should be doing, and instead spend all our time managing logistics, and doing detailed work in marketing, development, or sales. I respect that kind of detailed mindset, and lord knows we rely on people with logistical talents to get the product out the door, produce the brilliant graphics work, copy-edit the website and promotional materials, and so on.

But if you want to be promoted, improve your status, or perhaps just remain relevant, you need to find ways to delegate those detailed items. If you don’t delegate them, they will consume you, and I’m afraid that your pay grade will be limited.

I mostly blame this state of affairs on company management, because most of us respond to our environment and culture. But don’t you notice that there are some people who simply don’t get stuck in that rut? What are they doing differently?

It reminds me of the Seinfeld episode in which George concluded that every decision he had ever made had been wrong. Jerry pointed out that if every instinct George has is wrong, then the opposite would have to be right! I started thinking that it might help some product managers to do the opposite.

What are some of the opposite choices you can make? Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Don’t demonstrate your proficiency with PowerPoint. If you must create PowerPoint (and yes, we all must), create basic diagrams with poor color choices.
  • If you need a diagram, book a meeting with the graphics designer and whiteboard what you’re after, and request a PowerPoint version. This will probably save you 3 hours per diagram.
  • When you work a trade show, arrange ahead of time with your boss to spend time away from the booth. You must of course work the hours assigned to you, but do your best to minimize them.
  • If you attend sales calls, think carefully about your role, and let the SE do most of the technical work. Allow the SE to answer the technical questions, do the demo, and so on. Make it your focus to connect with the customer’s requirements.
  • Limit your commitments. Say no. This is the opposite of most of our instincts; we aim to please! Most of you reading this can probably do the job of almost anyone in the company. But don’t do it!
  • Before you ask permission to call customers, find some inactive accounts and do some win/loss analysis. Work in the background to find accounts that are closed (both won and lost), but for which no other opportunities or activities are current. Call them up. Get the contacts in whatever way you can and make the calls, then publish your reports.
  • At trade shows, collect business cards, and call the people back. Your sales team probably isn’t following up anyway! Tell the people you call that you want to hear about their experience at the trade show and what they learned, without focusing initially on your product. Get the conversation going, then turn to your market area without mentioning your product. Ask them what they’re doing in your “problem domain”; do they have the problems that your product addresses? How are they managing those? How important are they?
  • If you are allowed to work from home, do it as much as you can. Be productive on the important things, and publish your results.
  • If you are not allowed to work from home, take a sick day, but don’t goof off. Instead, work from home and write an article, or do some of the skunk works above. Do this at least once a month. When you get back, show your work to your boss and tell her that you wrote the article (or whatever) while you were recovering yesterday.

Start small, but pick an opposite. Let me know how it goes!

– Alan

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12 responses to “Product Managers: Do the opposite!

  1. Alan,
    This is a very interesting insight. I like the list of “dos” that you have above.

  2. I’m reminded of a story by a newlywed. The husband left a red sock in the laundry and a whole load turned pink. His wife said, “Okay, no more laundry for you. You can now be in charge of auto repair and lawn maintenance.” Maybe we should turn the demo pink once in a while. Since product managers really CARE about doing a professional job, it’s hard to do a poor job of anything. But after a great demo, the sales guy sez, “You were great; I’m gonna request you for all my demos.” Uh oh. We’ve taught them the wrong thing.

    Look at the behaviors that you’re encouraging. Instead of doing a great job at the wrong activity, work with the one who is supposed to be doing it. Teach the SE to do a great demo; teach the dev team more about the market so they can make better judgment calls; give marketing good positioning with ready-to-use text so you don’t have to write their copy.

    As I used to say to my team, “Nobody gets promoted for going to meetings or doing email.”

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  4. I agree totally with bullet #2. Saves you a ton of time and the results will be better than what you would have done on your own. A sketch on paper that you scan and email works too.

    Great video. When I was watching it, I couldn’t help but also think about the power of differentiation.

  5. Thanks Mike, Sandeep, and Steve… I appreciate your feedback.

  6. Mike, I noticed from your linkedIn profile that you were at Alcoa. I don’t suppose you were there under Paul O’Neill? I read “The Price of Loyalty” about his time as secretary of the treasury. At least in the book he was portrayed as an uncommonly good leader and thinker.

  7. Alan, I worked for Alcoa after Paul O’Neill was gone. I think that the company suffered quite a bit when it lost him as CEO. I have only heard good things about him.

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  10. Alan, this is great food for thought. Thinking ‘opposite’ often causes fear; fear about doing the wrong thing or that you will fail. Often times it’s the best thing that can happen. I like to think of it as facing your fears. Try new/different/opposite things (within reason of course), and when you feel fear, ask yourself “what is the worst thing that could happen?” Answer that question then think about what you can do to mitigate problems. Then move forward with an attitude of success. You’ll be amazed at the results. -Michael

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