Mar 23, 2009 2 min read

Social Animals in Lone Wolf Roles

Part of P-Camp‘s excitement was gathering so many product managers together in person – twice last year’s attendees – for sharing and informal networking. Putting physical faces to our online personas. This prompts some thoughts about product managers being socially isolated within their technical organizations.

First an observation: Product management is a very small portion of any product organization. In waterfall development teams, one PM to each 20 (or 50!) techies isn’t uncommon. As motivators and enforcers and cheerleaders and decision-makers, we spend most of our time working the internal (technical) teams and the outbound (market-facing) groups. There’s not much energy left for each other.

Smaller organizations may only have one or two product managers, typically working for Engineering (or Marketing) execs without a strong sense of product management’s rhythms and challenges. That creates “lone wolf” PMs who have to keep re-invigorating/evangelizing their role as well as driving their products. Perhaps more Australian Sheepdog than wolf, since most of the day is devoted to herding people and processes. Overall, not much PM-to-PM social contact.

Larger companies tend to form product managements groups (“packs”). This helps a lot, since we can share approaches and tools. And frustrations. And the occasional beer. A Director or VP of product management is top dog, bringing organizational clout and more consistent processes. Still, we tend to self-identify around our products (“I product manage our online vendor profiles”) as much as our roles. Each of us has our own flock to nudge along, so very little of the day is spent with other PMs.

Group PM activities such as product-line planning and roadmapping have to be squeezed in between the day’s panics. And in big companies with portfolio-level politics, we spend time posturing to protect our local territory. (”My application would work fine if your platform was built correctly…”). So product management is a social activity where most of our co-participants aren’t PMs. It’s hard to make time for each other.

So I’m enthused by grassroots efforts to meet in person. Our first P-Camp inspired similar events in Boston, Toronto and Austin. Likewise, SVPMA is one of several groups with monthly get-togethers. While I’m also a fan of PM-related blogs, it’s the F2F events that get my tongue lolling.

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