Am I an unProduct person?

Jukesie wrote The unProduct Person, which poses some interesting questions about the current state of product management and its focus on frameworks. It made me think a bit more deeply about what I think about some of those points.

I think the need for people to ‘professionalise’ the craft of product management, to make it a definable thing, to demonstrate how important it is and how ‘scientific’ it is has been to its detriment. 

The discipline/function/profession of product management is still very new/emerging, it doesn’t have regulations to pin it down like finance does, it has been at the forefront of the internet-era disruption/transformation (along with lots of other roles), and it works with intangible things in messy spaces. These four factors (along with many more, I’m sure) make for shaky ground to grow in. But I’m ok with that. I think the answer is to get better at dealing with uncertainty, not go looking for certainty. So, I think I agree about not needing to ‘professionalise’ (whatever that might mean) product management any time soon. More time for emergence required.

Personally, I definitely identify with using a certain way of thinking to approach certain types of problems more than I identify with the job title and ‘more professionalism’ isn’t going to change that.

To me, product management is fundamentally a scientific pursuit. It uses the scientific method in an organisational context. I think the future of product management is in using more systems-thinking approaches rooted in synthesis and how things connect in complex systems, but for now we are where we are, so the scientific method with it’s reductive analysis is good enough.

OKRs are one of the big faultlines for me. While I don’t intrinsically think they are a bad thing – and there is definitely evidence they have been successful and useful places – I just don’t believe the juice is worth the squeeze in the vast majority of cases

I agree that the OKR juice isn’t worth the squeeze. It’s easy to spend more time and effort aligning the OKRs than OKRs provide alignment for teams. This isn’t OKR’s fault – it’s bureaucracy and hierarchy’s fault.

The pursuit of excellence in and mastery of the growing number of frameworks and models for product people seems to have overwhelmed the more foundational principles of product practice.

Another thing I agree with. A focus on frameworks does get in the way of understanding and applying the foundations of product practice. I’ve seen it happen. But maybe you can only see it from Ri. If you’re at Shu, then you have to learn the rules before you can break them, and that means learning frameworks. So the best thing a person at Ri can do is help those at Shu to learn and practice and progress as quickly as possible. Get the reps in.

Being focused on delivering valuable outcomes, articulating and holding tight to a vision, owning the hard decisions/trade-offs in pursuit of that vision, being the ‘glue’ to help teams achieve…and doing all of this by influencing without authority. It is a facilitation and influencing role

This is a yes and no for me. Yes, because those things are what product managers have to do, no, because the only reason they have to do them is because of how organisations are set up, who has power, how information flows, etc. If organisations were different, product managers wouldn’t have to do those things. Product managers only have to do glue work because there are forces trying to pull people in different directions. Those things might not seem so foundational to the role if the organisation changed, which tells us they probably aren’t that foundational now.

I’d rather Product people learned more about policy and service design, data science, DevOps, programme management or data protection than attend another Product specific training course. I truly believe the path to making the most effective contribution possible is that of the path of the generalist. Breadth not depth. Empathy for many professions more than narrow expertise in one.

Definitely agree that product people should be generalists, and S-shaped too. Not only do they need a broad range of knowledge but they need to be curious and know how to learn quickly too.

So, there’s a lot I can agree with in Jukesie’s post, but does it make me an unProduct Person? I don’t think so. For me, “avoiding hierarchy and being flexible and open to new ideas and ways of operating” describes the Ri of product management (and I intentionally avoid using the word ‘maturity’ there because it’s infantalising and reinforces existing power structures). Ri is a good place to be. Hope I get there one day.