Nine ways being a product manager is just like being a parent

  1. You can’t control the outcome. You can lead and guide, and establish conditions and practices to influence — in fact, you must! But, you can’t know the software will ship in ‘tip-top’ on a specific date any more than you can know the kids will mature to become wonderful, ready-for-the-world human beings by age 18.
  2. You don’t have all the answers. If you pretend you do, your kids will openly call your bluff and quickly move on, with little harm done (so long as it’s not common). Your team may not. They’re more likely to determine that your input, designs or feature priorities are not credible. Be clear when you’re expressing an opinion vs. a fact, and where you have supporting data vs. not. Be clear when your ideas are intuition-based. Genuinely seek to understand the opinions and intuitions of others — yes, including your kids:-)
  3. In fact, be very open that you don’t have many answers. Both your kids and co-workers will find you more approachable and more credible. Ask straight-up, clarifying questions. Tell good stories of struggles and failures. Use those stories to guide thinking and decision-making — as a tool for influence, they’re far more powerful than demands or unilateral decisions.
  4. Give accountability. People are amazing, including and maybe especially young, little people! They’re capable of so damn much. But you’ll only ever know how much if you let them show you. I once heard a story of how Obama struggled earlier in his political career. His staff was there to passionately work with and for him, but because he was technically capable of doing each of this staffers’ jobs better than they were, he tried to do his job and all of theirs concurrently! He failed to scale, and the people working for him became increasingly frustrated — they wanted to do their job! The lesson is a simple one: let amazing people be amazing (regardless of whether they’re 10 or 40).
  5. All problems are people problems, all people problems are communication problems. Be a super proactive communicator — that should go without saying when it comes to raising kids or leading as a PM. ‘How’ you communicate is at least as important as ‘what’ you say. Your spirit and approach often matter more than your actual words. A little jois de vivre goes a long way.
  6. Worry never helps. Freneticism never helps. Anger never helps. Regardless the situation — be positive, be proactive. You can’t turn the clock back, so focus on always moving forward. Get positive, chill the hell out, enjoy the journey and help the people around you do the same.
  7. Know your stage, and plan and act accordingly. The challenges in parenting a 2-year old are really different than those of a 15 year old. Similarly, the challenges of a seed-stage startup are really different than those of a public company. Know your stage and its likely challenges. It’s natural for a 2-year old to have a wailing meltdown. And, it’s natural for an early-stage startup to do significant product re-design as it learns how to improve usability and searches for market fit. In either case, don’t get upset about it, just work through it proactively and positively. Different stages, different problems, different bag o’ tools required. Which is great, because you will have the opportunity to learn and grow, right along with your kids or your company. Always be learning!
  8. Support others’ interests. Harry Truman said: “I have found the best way to give advice to your children is to find out what they want and then advise them to do it.” Similarly, it’s important to support work that an engineer really wants to do, even if it’s hard to justify or prioritize in terms of imminent user impact. You can’t do this all the time, because customer impact is top priority, but never forget that people need to feel energized and motivated to be engaged and productive. Give a little discretion — sometimes more than a little — to really good and capable people. Like so many other things on this list, this is all ‘soft’ art and no science.
  9. There’s no one way. Every kid is unique — even in the same house, what works for one may be very different than what works for another. And, every product or company is unique. Whether working with your kids or your product team, play to the unique, intrinsic strengths and motivations. In leading a product team, this applies all the way down to tooling. JIRA or Pivotal? Crittercism or Crashlytics? Slack or HipChat? I don’t know. There’s no one tool, no one way — consider what will work best given how your team likes to work.

I hate to end this list with nine. Who has a #10?

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