I recently started Stanford Online’s PM course, and one of the first pre-readings assigned was a blog post by Ben Horowitz, Good PM / Bad PM. It’s an old post, but you can find several more recent attempts (not by Ben Horowitz) that riff on the same core ideas.
There are a few ideas I really liked. I found myself head-nodding as I read the following:
Good product managers know the market, the product, the product line and the competition extremely well and operate from a strong basis of knowledge and confidence– Ben Horowitz
Good product managers crisply define the target, the “what” (as opposed to the how) and manage the delivery of the “what.”– Ben Horwitz
There are lots of other nuggets like the above throughout the text, so you’ll probably find a few solid takeaways when you read it.
There are also quite a few things that struck me as intriguing and worth turning over a bit more, such as:
Bad product managers have lots of excuses. Not enough funding, the engineering manager is an idiot, Microsoft has 10 times as many engineers working on it, I’m overworked, I don’t get enough direction.– Ben Horowitz
If we frame bad product management as problematic, which is a totally reasonable thing to do, then we also ought to acknowledge that the problem does not necessarily live with the product manager alone.
The problem can absolutely live with the product manager alone some of the time, but it can also live with an underfunded, understaffed organization, or an organization whose culture is not conducive to good product work for one of countless other reasons.
Bad product management–bad [insert any professional practice here]–is a problematic situation, and the most useful lens to apply to it is one that treats it as open, complex, dynamic, and networked.
Reducing the problematic situation to a single variable, the product manager, prioritizes a set of solutions that robs an organization and its leadership from the opportunity to reflect and identify ways in which a stronger product culture can be achieved, including by strengthening supporting resources, which is a crucial condition.
I’ll end with some provocations: what are the conditions for good PM work? how can organizations create the best conditions for PMs to thrive? If you’ve got answers, then drop ’em in the comments!
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