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Posted by Tom Grant on September 21, 2009
Forrester colleague Oliver Young left last week to join Jive as a product manager. Oliver is a big music fan with eclectic tastes, so I thought I'd put together, in his honor, the product management/marketing playlist. If you were to make a musical version of what it's like to be a tech PM, here's what you'd put into the soundtrack. (Suggestions for additions welcome.)
Why these songs?
- "Build Me Up, Buttercup," The Foundations. The job is, at the end of the day, making sure that your company is building something of value.
- "If You Could Read My Mind," Gordon Lightfoot. Unfortunately, what defines value is pretty elusive. Figuring out what people really want is one of the trickiest parts of the job.
- "Quality Shoe," Mark Knopfler. Often, what they want is a lot simpler than what people in the development team assume. It's always safest to start with the basics.
- "Human," The Pretenders. In PM, you'll spend a lot of time talking about technology, in technological terms (features, supported platforms, bugs, integrations, builds, etc.). You need to be on top of these details, but you also need to keep enough perspective on the human elements of technology adoption. (And if you're not keeping an eye on both the technology and business factors, who is?)
- "I Need Some Money," John Lee Hooker. At the end of the day, though, you're building something of value for both you and the customer. Can your company make money, based on this idea? (By idea, I mean something as big as a product, or as small as a minor feature.)
- "On The Road Again," Canned Heat. Then you have to translate this value, for the customer and your company, into a roadmap that benefits both parties.
- "No Phone," Cake. As you march down this roadmap, you're going to face a lot of conflicting priorities, unexpected twists of fate, and other distractions. Still, you need to keep your wits about you, which often means you can't be as available to everyone who wants your time as they'd like.
- "Who Are You," The Who. You're also going to face a lot of confusion about your job description. What does PM do, anyway? If you don't take the initiative and define it clearly for them, other people will define your job for you.
- "Video Killed The Radio Star," The Buggles. Technology shifts are tricky to predict, and everyone wants to be at the center of these changes. You're going to have to decide how your company can best strike the balance between visionary possibilities and prosaic realities.
- "I Won't Back Down," Tom Petty. Your job as PM is, in large part, to remove a lot of this chaos and uncertainty. Your best tool in your arsenal are the facts. You're paid to have an expert opinion about markets, customers, competitors, technology trends, and other forces that shape your company's destiny. You are not paid to have just another opinion.
- "All You Ever Wanted," The Black Keys. Roadmaps will change. Projects will get new priorities. Some messaging will fail. Customers will disappoint you. Obviously, you need to be flexible, but you also need to keep the same destination in sight: Building something people want, and will make your company money to provide it.
- "Complicated Situation," Black Rebel Motorcycle Club. You're going to have to deliver bad news. Some stakeholder's pet idea won't pan out. A customer's bug is going to take longer than expected to fix. The big new market will prove to be a mirage. Deal with it.
- "Under Pressure," Queen with David Bowie. If you don't like these kinds of challenges, then PM isn't the job for you.
- "Working In The Coal Mine," Lee Dorsey. And yes, it's a lot of work. Frequently, you won't always be able to predict what the work will look like for the rest of the day, week, or month.
- "Three Little Birds," Bob Marley. But, as Bob Marley says, "Every little thing is going to be all right." Not every prospect is going to buy your technology. Dates slip, but not into infinity. You'll get bad, unfair press. You'll lose internal arguments. Good PMs know how to dust themselves off and move to the next task.
[Cross-posted at The Heretech.]
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