My Learnings from Chatting with 50 Product Managers

In this article, Adeyinka shares the culmination of her learnings after talking to 50 product managers. What does it really mean to be a 'great' PM?

Adeyinka Adedoja
February 9, 2024

I initially set out to share insights gained from my conversations with 50 senior product managers. I was going to emphasise how great product managers are outcome-oriented, and not output-oriented. It was my intention to convey that communication is a common virtue among excellent product managers.

However, I couldn't bring myself to submit that draft, so I found myself deleting all 1050 words. And as rash as that was, it didn't even crack the top 100 mistakes I've made this year.

But why did I choose to delete my first draft? Thank you for asking. 

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You see, I realised after grappling for a convincing conclusion, that everything I've written, you'd soon come across in a tweet, a LinkedIn post, Reddit, or a book about product management. Because, the truth is, there is a plethora of resources, from free guides to LinkedIn gurus, to an array of courses and bootcamps readily available to tell you how to be a great PM. 

The product manager's life

But what remains unsaid are the real stories, the lessons learned through trial and error, and the deeply personal experiences that mould a Product Manager beyond just the textbook definition. I don't want to go on and on about what to do to realign executives when their expectations seem unrealistic or why your launch fails - despite all the available resources you have at your disposal. You can learn all that by joining PM programs like Product School or Co.Lab. 

I'd rather tell you how most product managers shifted their perspective on the definition of greatness after setbacks and failed products

John, a growth PM in a startup, told me he initially saw setbacks as failures until he started working in a growth-focused company, which made him shift to a growth mindset where he now views challenges as opportunities to learn and grow. 

Similarly, Rebecca, a Tech PM in Adtech, shared her experience. Early in her career, she used to aim for perfection in every product release, equating it with greatness until she worked on a challenging project. She learned that quick iteration and adaptability are equally vital and thus redefined greatness to be a balance between quality and speed. 

Paul, too, faced a recalibration. He entered product management aspiring for rapid promotions as a measure of success. After facing setbacks, he recalibrated his definition, with a turning point being a failed project that taught him the value of resilience and learning from failures.

Now, what I learned from all these personal stories is that while we all want to be great product managers, and we all want to stand out from the crowd, most of us don’t have a good understanding of “great” or “stand out”

How do you define success? What is the ideal career outcome that you aspire to? What happens when your definition of success contradicts with what your stakeholder or teammates defines as success? 

For me, greatness in product management is a dynamic blend of strategic thinking, effective communication, and the ability to drive positive outcomes for both the team and the end-users. 

To me, great product managers are like chess masters. They find solutions others can’t even see, but they can’t explain how they got there. 

The implication is that their decision-making involves a level of intuition, expertise, or pattern recognition that might be challenging to fully verbalise or teach. This adds a layer of complexity to understanding and replicating their success, as it goes beyond a straightforward, easily communicable process.

This perspective emerged from my chat with 50 product managers, revealing that the best product managers are those who have made a lot of decisions or ship a lot of products. Those PMs have more data points and failures to learn from. And over a period of time, they become better at their decisions, increasing the chances of their product’s success.

With that in my mind, I begin my journey to learn from all the 100 mistakes I have made this year.

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