Product Manager: An Attribute or Simply a Job Title?Advice From the Trenches

A man signing into his iphone

There are two types of people in the world (boy, how many stories have started with that opener?!); product managers and everyone else. Huh? What’s that mean? It means that being a product manager is actually more of an attribute, than it is a job title.

Product Managers generally:

  • Are able to breakdown problems.

  • Deal well with ambiguity.

  • Are able to adapt as necessary.

  • Are proactive.

  • Communicate well.

  • Collaborate well.

  • Are able to build relationships.

  • Are able to motivate.

  • Refuse to suck.

  • Are willing to make trade offs (but not suck).

  • Are creative thinkers.

  • Take ownership.

  • Care.

  • …the list goes on and on

You will know quickly if this job is for because there is no middle ground, and those that embrace ambiguous situations are better positioned for success versus those that struggle in environments with little direction. You will gain respect if you can articulate your objective, and then set your sights with laser focus.

How you get there doesn’t matter, as long as you get there

There are many ways to solve a problem. Being a product manager is all about figuring it out. It’s like solving a puzzle while you’re playing a side game of chess, with a dash of politics and strategery (yes, strategery). When presented with a problem, you figure out the solution. Easy right? Um, no. Fun, yes.

Creating a product is the most difficult task you can be been challenged with because suddenly, you’re not working with 1’s and 0’s, there is no black and white, and you have to devise a plan that figures out all the steps between A and Z — and execute. A product manager is responsible for understanding the needs of the market, the design, validating assumptions, the solution, the engineering, the project management, the testing, the marketing, the sales, the relationship building and the person that fills in the gaps when needed (even minuscule tasks like data entry, anything) — so yeah, no task is too small or beneath you. You’re the poster-child for the product, so if there’s a job to be done, you do it or delegate it. You take the licks and the praises.

Learn from failure, don’t dwell on it

As a technologist and throughout my career, creating products came easy to me. No, not everything always worked out, but I learned things along the way. I attribute that to being naturally curious and always having an incredible amount of empathy for the people I’m building products for — and, here’s a crazy thought, actually talking to them!

Very early on in my career, I learned that failure sucks. Duh, right? It never feels good, but mentors will coach you, that what you do after you fail is what matters most. Did you give up or did you charge forward through the storm like an NFL Running-Back and make a come back?

It’s your scar tissue and ability to leverage your failures that makes you great, not your wins. Remember, victory has many parents, failure only one. ~ Bob Corrigan

Failure is how we grow. Understand and embrace that. It means persisting towards your goal. You must. Always. Move. Forward. No excuses. Persist!


It goes without saying, but being passionate about your work will always result in a better product because you will care more about the details, but passion doesn’t preclude effort. You have to give a damn.

When managing a product, you are managing many different elements and you have to care and give each a special amount of attention but at the same time, be willing trust them to self-manage. Team dynamics, trust and competency are very important.

Getting things done

So how do you get things done? It’s all about building relationships! You have to build trust between your project managers, engineers, designers, sales, marketing and most importantly, your customers. How? You’ve got to master the art of communication, influence and persuasion, which is not easy, but nothing in this job is. Is there a trick? Sort of. You build relationships before you need to leverage them.

Be Adaptable

There are so many moving objects when managing a product. You must be aware of them all (managing vendors, internal politics, management structure, development teams, testers, project managers, designers, architects, businesses, customers, etc.), and like a game of chess, you must be thinking ahead several moves in order to react (or not) properly. You must adapt.

If the team is focusing on the wrong problem, take charge, correct the focus and move forward.

Understand a couple things quickly:

  1. No one is going to be your advocate. Think of yourself as a startup CEO. Who is going to make sure [insert task] gets done? Answer: No one but you.

  2. Never assume anything. If you don’t act, no one else will. Trust but validate.

Get ready for an amazing journey!

Finally, this is the most exhilarating role in the businsess world, so get ready for an incredible ride!

This article was first published on Medium and has been republished here with the author’s permission

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Matt Khoury is an engineer-turned-product manager who builds digital products. He currently works at Thomson Reuters building web and mobile apps. You can follow Matt on Medium, Twitter, or on his website.