Product Managers and The Three Thieves

omamuzo Samson
6 min readJan 18, 2021

One of the most enthralling jobs in technology is ‘Product Management’; a position where the satisfaction of an individual (user) is in your hands. You make a decision and people’s lives are easier or harder.

Such an enormous power but with such power comes great responsibility.

You’d have thought with such power, as a product manager, you’ve got everything under control. You’re far from the truth — you’re never done. Nothing is under control. It’s the only job where you’re never finished working until the product’s demise.

So, you’re a product manager

The role of the product manager is to work with a team — designer, engineer, analyst, sales, marketing etc. — to create the right product that balances meeting business needs with solving user problems.”

As a product manager, you wake up everyday thinking of your users, the market and your company. Rarely about yourself!

Any good goal is measurable.

Users: whether the product is in discovery or launched, you’re constantly thinking of your users. Will users like this product? If they like it, would they pay for it? How long before the churn starts going up? An endless list to be honest.

And if your product is launched, you’re constantly looking at the data, thinking of the next hack, tweak and offer to push out to your users to either onboard new ones, retain the old ones or give those that left a reason to come back to your product.

“Drift’s David Cancel suggests, “Rather than try to predict the future, why don’t I invite you into our process? If you are a key strategic customer, then when we get close to a possible solution for the thing that is of concern to you, we’ll bring you into a design review and let you give us feedback about whether it meets your needs.” (an excerpt from the book: Product Roadmapping: A Practical Guide to Prioritizing Opportunities, Aligning Teams, and Delivering Value to Customers and Stakeholders)

Market: Numbers don’t lie and it cannot be truer than what the market is saying to you. You’re constantly looking at the signals — ‘what is the market saying?’. It’s your job to stay updated on your market, industry and competitors.

Looking at the latest report in your industry, you realized the market size is going to shrink and your next thought is how can this not affect your product.

Imagine what product managers at hotels and holiday tech companies like Airbnb were going through during the 2020 global lockdown and then contrast that to what product managers in companies like Zoom were doing.

Company: Your company/organization wants some profit ‘YoY’ that’s why they hire you to build products that customers can pay for. There is no use in building a product if it doesn’t deliver any value that can be converted to cash — now or later. So, putting your users and the market in the same bracket should result in something positive (more money, more users etc.) for the company. If it doesn’t, you’ll be blamed. If it succeeds, the company and the team gets the reward.

A glance at metrics can communicate if things are getting better, worse, or unchanging, far more efficiently and consistently than other, more subjective methods.

However, with all these everyday tasks staring at you in the face, you must find the time to take care of yourself. You should not find yourself at a place where you’re so drained that thinking productively becomes really hard work.

To be a better product manager, there are three things you should watch out for, they’re there to steal your shine: they’re the three thieves.

According to the 2021 state of product management report by Product Plan; ‘the number one challenge that product people experience is getting consensus on product direction’.

Here are the 3 thieves:

  • Imposter Syndrome: Looking at the Product Plan 2021 report, only 8% of the people surveyed do not feel the impostor syndrome. Amazing! The others are either feeling it rarely or frequently. You don’t want to find yourself in this state. Not good, man.

You know that ‘fraudster feeling’ you get when you think about your role as a product manager and measure it against the impact and knowledge, and you suddenly felt like you’re not worthy to be a product manager? That’s imposter syndrome. (how to overcome it?)

The report states it better; “Imposter syndrome is a psychological term referring to a behaviour pattern where people doubt their accomplishments and have a persistent, often internalized fear of being exposed as a fraud”. “Product managers have explained that they are particularly vulnerable to feeling imposter syndrome because they feel the need to be the expert and often need to make decisions with imperfect information. The nature of the profession is nebulous, leading many to doubt themselves.” — Product Plan 2021 Product Manager Report.

  • Yes, man: what are your priorities as a product manager? Over the years, communication skill has trumped one of the skills a PM should possess. And it is your responsibility to communicate your product strategy and prioritization to the stakeholders and everyone in between. Don’t say no when you mean to say yes. Don’t always say yes.

Your default answer should be ‘No’ until you’ve enough reason to say ‘yes’. At first, it will be uncomfortable, after all, you’re the product guy that is supposed to be cool with everyone so your task doesn’t suffer in the hand of one designer or analyst or finance guy.

Focusing is about saying NO! — Steve Jobs

Don’t worry, after a while, they’ll come around and understand your way of working. One way you can fix this is by setting up a better and effective process of communication.

  • Don’t be a lone wolf: you’ll be eaten alive and no one will be there to save your ass. Don’t have the lone wolf mentality that causes you to assume you’re the one responsible for the success of the product. I think this is where the ‘product manager’ title misleads. I’ll just chop apart from the book by Melissa Perri — Escaping the Build Trap: How Effective Product Management Creates Real Value;

“The title “product manager” is misleading in itself. An effective product manager is not a manager. The position doesn’t come with much direct authority. To be effective team leaders, product managers need to recognize team members’ strengths and to work with them to achieve the common goal. They need to convince their team — and the rest of the company — that what they are working toward is the right thing to be building. These influencing skills (emphasis mine) are essential.”

To be a great product manager, you must understand that you will get further by taking advantage of the collective skills and expertise of the team.

You, a product manager, must understand that you’re not the sole proprietor of ideas, and as smart as you are, there are ‘quadrillion’ things you are yet to figure out. As per the imposter syndrome, put yourself in the place of continual learning and consistent improvement.

Allow yourself to make mistakes. If huge companies like Google and Microsoft could make mistake with building products, you are definitely in a good place.

After all, as a product manager that want to build great products, you should move fast and break things. And you think moving fast won’t cost you some expensive things at times? It will.

These are the three thieves I know (and probably working to overcome) most product managers struggle with day in, day out. Do you know others? What are they? Leave them in the comment.

Image: Tech Thieves



omamuzo Samson

I’m a product manager and marketer helping to scale startup and technology products — driving demand, leads, growth and revenue.