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Posted by Tom Grant on October 2, 2009
Several forces are pushing PMs in the same direction: both product managers and product marketers are under increasing pressure to be good researchers. Here are a quick summary of but a few of those industry changes, and how they put greater stress on the research part of the job:
Normally, when I present a list like this one, I see a lot of nodding in the audience. The good news for both product managers and product marketers is, Congratulations, your organization sees the research you do as a strategic asset. For many PMs, the bad news is, You're going to have to give up some other tasks.
Of course, many are eager to do so. The biggest complain among PMs we've surveyed is, We don't have enough time to tackle everything on our to-do list. However, from talking to a lot of PM group leaders, as well as having being one myself, I know how hard it can be to detach PMs from one set of tasks to focus on another.
For some PMs, it's hard to give up on the excitement and glamor of many of the very same tasks that they grumble are distracting them from their core responsibilities. Sales calls are unpredictable and time-consuming...But for people who are interested in what people want to do with the company's technology, talking to these people hardly ever seems like a waste of time. Marketing support, such as staffing the booth at trade shows, carves out weeks from the schedule...But they also can be fun, and they're a way to peek over the shoulders of partners and competitors.
Some PMs have a harder time than others of letting go. One person who worked for me got addicted to questions from the field, the dozens of e-mails that flowed in, every day, and started with the same stock phrase, "I have a customer who..." We needed him to put more effort into product requirements, but it was hard to get him to focus. He hated to let any question go unanswered, or trust someone else to do as good a job of answering it.
Other PMs have a hard time letting go of bug meetings. If you see yourself as the voice of the customer, then Q.E.D., you want to be sure that the customer gets strong representation in decisions about bugs. If you never do a better job of collecting customer insights and communicating them to the team, you'll continue to sit through hours and hours of bug discussions.
PM managers may worry that, as the demand for research goes up, their team has the necessary skill and talent. They should also worry about the force of habit, which as Thomas Carlyle argued, may be "the deepest law of human nature." PM managers need to think about the psychic rewards that research priorities can provide, as replacements for some old sources of job gratification.
[Cross-posted at The Heretech.]
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