At Target, I lead an internal internship for aspiring product managers, called the Product Fellowship. It is a program that gives current employees an opportunity to be mentored by product managers and embed them in working product teams. The goal is to identify the next great product leaders and give them tangible experience to leverage in looking for their first product job.
Two weeks ago, we had a number of product fellows do a presentation on the product they are working on and the discovery they had been doing with customers. One of my colleagues noted that there was a consistent theme throughout the day – a lot of apologizing. Apologizing for not having good solutions ready for customers, apologizing for not having a good handle on their OKRs, etc. This ended up driving a really good conversation on the topic of empathy.
While empathy is a critical trait of a successful product manager, it can sometimes go too far. Fast Company recently wrote a fabulous article on how to replace “sorry” with better phrases.
Question for current product people – Do you find yourself falling into some of these traps and if so, how do you avoid them?
I was meeting with a founder of a really successful software company a couple of weeks ago and we got to talking about the current state of product management skills and he had a great analogy:
“When we were in high school, the coolest thing to be in was a rock band, and the coolest member of the rock band was the guitar player. Today, it seems like the the rock band has turned into the software company and the coolest role is the product manager. Unfortunately, we seem to have a lot of shitty guitars players these days.”
Just because you say you’re a product manager doesn’t make it so. Just like being a successful musician, you need to practice your craft constantly and build your chops up over time.