Perfection is attained, not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.
—Antoine de St. Exupéry
As a product manager for all things digital from websites to apps, my job is as much about deciding what features don’t make it into a product as it about what features do. Sometimes it’s more about what not to put in, or — dare I say it aloud — what to take out. Stakeholders often bristle when their pet feature is headed for the chopping block, but product managers have to press on, because the simplest and most elegant solutions are often the most powerful.
“Product Manager” may not be your actual job title, but when it comes to your career you should start thinking of yourself that way. Here are three rules of product management that can help you remove the noise from your narrative so you can design your career based on your own well being and definition of success.
1. Build a Roadmap. (If you don’t lay out the specs, someone else will).
It’s a product manager’s job to collect all the business requirements, think through the user story, and put together the specifications of a product that will meet these needs. As a Product person, I know that if I don’t lock these things down, I will lose control to another stakeholder inside my company. Likewise, if you don’t define your own career path, you’ll find yourself taking on heaven-knows-what because someone asked or insisted. The person who can achieve the best intentions for you, is you. Instead of letting someone else take the reigns on your career, you should define the specs with your boss/mentors. Then pursue target companies and efforts within those organizations that will distinguish you in the way you want to be defined. Anything that doesn’t meet those requirements? Let them go. And in some cases that means moving teams or quitting your job.
2. Start with user experience. Always.
If the user isn’t happy, no one is happy. In the case of your career, the user is anyone who will hire you onto an internal team or into a company. Match the type of work you want to do with the needs of the bosses / companies who most want you to the type of work that most interests you. Make sure everything you work on is targeted toward providing a simple, elegant solution as to why you are the person to take on that role. Try not to clutter your experience (or your resume) with the million other things you can do. You won’t engage the user, you’ll just confuse them. In product management we work in “sprints” to build product. When you lay out your career career strategy for the next year, think about monthly sprints you can do to keep yourself in alignment with those long term goals.
3. Never Design By Committee. Ever.
Yes, it’s the product manager’s job to take input. But it’s also the product manager’s job to distill that input into a feasible product. You are your own unique product, and it’s up to you to filter out the noise that will dilute your message, and instead focus on the advice, assignments, and projects that work best to get you to your goals. Agreeing to everything will just mean that you as a professional be seen as serving the least common denominator, and no one will be happy (especially you).
So the next time you find yourself overwhelmed by all the things you “should” be doing to progress, stop and ask yourself: are they really adding value? Answer honestly. Then dare to take some out.