Thursday, March 27, 2008

chat: is product management incompatible with passion

Paul: You were going to blog in response to my Product Management/Passion in Products post, did you ever get the chance to do that?

me: Curiously, that topic was such a blocker for me that it was making it hard to write about other topics - I have an idea of what I want to say, now I just need to say it. The short response is there is room for passion in product management but it should be for the craft of product management, never for the individual decisions. Passion for individual decisions can backfire on PMs because PMs shouldn't be making unilateral decisions - while passion for the craft makes it possible to organize the team around the "right" decision in a way that is acceptable to them. It's counterintuitive which is why it is hard to write about.

Paul: Yeah you nailed it; in all my reading about the products that inspire passion, there is a "designer-executive" at the core e.g. Steve Jobs or the guy who did the Mario Bros. franchise, and PM doesn't lend itself to that.

me: Believe me, there are benefits to having a designer executive around they insulate PM from a lot of pressure by taking design responsibilities on themselves. The trick is learning to leverage the strengths and passions of those around you in the pursuit of the PM craft - when you think of PM as an operations role, it's easier to have this perspective.

Paul: good thoughts; my follow up post was going to be "Does Passion Matter?" ...because if the end goal of PM is to maximize profit, there are a lot of plain vanilla products and services out there solving real needs, but doing so in a transparent way that doesn't inspire passion. I think that people (like myself) in tech get excited about passion products because they inspire, and we (I) aspire to the greatness they represent...

me: Passion matters, but it's a strong tonic that should be used carefully. Strong emotions create adrenaline, and we can't sustain them indefinitely. In the long run "passion products" are transient, because passion is transient. Products that "make meaning" deliver a more lasting value that persists in the mind of the buyer even when their passion is at a low. Ultimately "meaning" is correlated very strongly with "solves problems", and if we can combine products that delight the consumer and solve meaningful problems, we've got the perfect storm to motivate not just the PM but everyone involved. A PM who can lead a team to accomplish this has achieved greatness, but only inasmuch as they've helped to expose the greatness of the people on the team. Again, it's counterintuitive.

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