Why Successful Product Managers are reincarnated Chameleons

No I am not calling you names. But if you were to ask a chameleon what is most important to his success, he’ll answer that it is his powerful, sticky tongue and his unparalleled ability to blend in. Now replace chameleon with product manager and you’ll have the same truth. If you don’t get it, don’t worry – you don’t have to switch to eating insects for your daily protein to understand but there is a valuable lesson here. Let’s explore why this metaphor is so true.  (<strong>Reading Time</strong>: 3 minutes)

Ask yourself what the single most important part of PM is. If the answer is product expertise, it opens the door to the misconception that if you’re an expert on the product you will be a successful product manager – which is a recipe for failure. One of the most important things about the product management profession I learned in my career is that product management is not about the product. Well, not just about the product. There is another equally important – if not more important – aspect to the product management: people.

Internally product management is, or should be, at the center of an organization, they should be the spider in the web. In order to be successful, they have to be able to operate at, and in, many different parts of the organization – adapting the conversation to that part of the organization. What makes it even more interesting is that usually these different parts of the organization all are dependent on the success of the (your) product and will all need different things from the product. To add to the fun, you as a PM usually need something from all of these departments but nobody reports to you.

Externally product management is responsible for finding out what is going on the market as well as usually being the product advocate. You’ve have to interact with customers, prospect, partners, former customers (!), analysts, bloggers, competitors and a whole slew of other interesting folks.

You will have to navigate the proverbial jungle that is a mix of (pre)sales, support, C-level management, development, testers, marketing, finance, (former) customers, prospect, partners, analysts, bloggers, competitors etc. This is where your past life as a chameleon comes into play. You’ll need to use your tongue to convince others of what you are doing (or not doing) with the product is the right decision. Sometimes you’ll have to depend of the power and reach of your tongue to make a powerful point. Sometimes, when you’re dealing with an analyst for example, you’ll value the stickiness of your tongue to make sure the message of your product takes with the analyst.

Other times you’ll use your ability to blend in – to be invisible and just observe what’s going on around you. Like when you are in a Sales review meeting. If you blend into the background and listen well, in these meetings you’ll witness another important aspect of your product: how sales among themselves perceive what it is like to sell it. It is a hard sell? Does the competition give them a hard time? Are people tired of it? It is overpriced? It is hard to implement? The list goes on.

I never thought I would like to compare myself to an insect-eating animal but there you go. Now you see me, now you don’t ….

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