A Day in the Life of the Cranky Product Manager

As an Internet icon and a member of the Technorati 100,000,000, the Cranky Product Manager receives hoards of email — one or two messages a week, in fact. Whenever she can, the Cranky Product Manager tries to help out her readers, the fans that make her celebrity lifestyle possible.  For example, she recently received this message:

Dear Cranky Product Manager:
I just found your blog and really like it. I am a senior at Georgia Tech in computer science, and am hoping to work at a software company after graduation. Product management sounds like an interesting position. What is a typical day like for you?
– Jack from Georgia Tech

Well, Jack, the Cranky Product Manager is glad to oblige. First, though, be aware that there is no truly "typical" day for the Cranky PM here at DysfunctoSoft. That is one of the "joys" of product management at such a fine company.  Every day is completely different, and at any one time you can expect there to be 50+ things on your to-do list.

That said, this is what her day was like yesterday:

5:45 am – Wake up.  Still in pajamas, stagger into home office and boot up laptop.  Drink coffee. Lots of coffee.

6:00 am – 7:30 am – Conference call with the marketing team in the Germany. Very difficult to stay awake on call. Endless discussion of campaigns and technical white papers they want the Cranky PM to write exclusively for the German market, because the German market is "very different" and has extremely "unique requirements."

7:30 am – 8:30 am – Conference call with Very Important Customer from the UK.  WebEx demo of the new features in the upcoming product release and get some feedback on the new features.  Try to act cheerful, not cranky.  This is very difficult.

8:30 am – 9:30 am – Shower, get dressed, drive to office. Get Peet's Coffee.

9:30 am – Arrive at office.  Before all the engineers.  They don't arrive until 10:30 or so. Slackers.

10:00 am – 11:30 am – Handle the 40 emails and 5 voice mails that arrived since 11 pm previous night. Lots of questions from PS consultants, sales engineers, customers, and customer support. All are about products, strategic direction, release schedules, and how to accomplish arcane technical tasks with the product.

11:30 – More coffee. But this time it's the swill from the break room.

11:30 am – 11:45 am – Start working on Powerpoint that the Cranky Product Manager will deliver at Sales Training next week, introducing the benefits and features of the upcoming product release.

11:45 am – 11:50 am -  The Training presentation needs to a quickie demo of the new product features, a demo that does not yet exist. The Cranky PM decides to create this demo. To do so, she attempts to install today's development build.

11:50 am – 12:00 pm -  Discover that this week's build is not available yet.  So, install last week's build. Thankfully, the QA Team's website claims that this build is good, and has passed all automated tests.

12:00 pm – 12:15 pm – Discover that while it installs, last week's build does not in fact work.  At all. What the #&$*?  Did the QA guys even TRY to boot it up? What did they do all week?  Track down Krishna, the  empire-building QA Manager. Why, Krishna, does your website claim last week's build passed when it doesn't even boot? Lame answer received: Oh, that's a bug with the website. The build hasn't worked in a while.

12:15 pm – 12:30 pm -  Track down Development Manager.  What is the latest build that actually works?  What do you mean, it's last Thursday's?  The Cranky PM tried that build and it sucked. Decide to wait a few hours to see if today's build finally shows up.

12:30 pm – 1:30 pm – Lunch with Director of Product Marketing.  Why does this guy always want to claim the DysfunctoSoft's products do shit they do not do nor were designed to do?  (It washes windows! It lowers your property taxes! It melts away the pounds!)  Try to focus him on the target market segment, the use cases and customer benefits we can offer in the near future.  He blathers some about how he can't focus on details like that because he's a "visionary."  Suppress urge to wring his neck right then and there.  Self-proclaimed Visionaries = loser (at least in the Cranky Product Manager's book).  Diffuse own temper by promising self to bitch about him on blog later.

1:30 pm – Back in office. Today's build is STILL not available. Grrr.  Try to develop an outline for the presentation anyway.

2:00 pm – Conference call with a Friendly Happy Customer. Interview her about a particular area of difficulty she's having, an area that the Cranky PM is considering for improvements in the next major release.  All is lovely until TWO DysfunctoSoft account reps join the call. Why TWO Droids joined, the Cranky Product Manager has no idea. She only notified Droid #1, whom the VP of Sales said owned the account.  Anyway, both droids are LATE for the call. PLUS each believes Friendly Happy Customer is HIS account. The droids start arguing in front of the customer.  All very unseemly. The customer is so disgusted she hangs up and then calls the Cranky PM at her desk to continue their little chat.  She says "Cranky Product Manager, we LOVE you, but we HATE your sales team. Tell your management we never want those sales people to call us again. From now on I want to deal with you only." The CPM is flattered, but fears for her schedule and stress level. Nevertheless, for five seconds she fantasizes about collecting the sales commission.

2:50 – Finish call with Friendly Happy Customer and leave voice mail for VP of Sales regarding the account manager escapades and the customer's ultimatum. Another problem the CPM must help solve, but is outside her real responsibilities.

2:58 – Today's build is finally available.  Except now the Cranky PM has no time to install it, as she'll be in meetings the next 3 hours.

3:00 pm – 4:00 pm – Meeting with product management team, to "officially" start planning for the next major release even though the current one isn't even limping yet.  Team argues the merits of top-down versus bottom-up planning for approximately the 100th time.

4:00 pm – 5:30 pm – Bug Scrub meeting. What joy. Similar to hammering nails into the palms of one's hands.  Try to Blackberry under the table while the QA Manager and Development Managers argue for the umpteenth time about the quality criteria for the release.

5:30 pm – 6:00 pm – Meet one-on-one with Development Manager for DysfunctoCrank, which is clearly way behind schedule for the next release.  Try to identify which pieces of functionality can be tossed out of the release (possibly never to return). Get indigestion at thought of telling Very Important Customers A and B, or at least their account teams, that their most desired features have been cut. Alas, it must be done.

6:00 pm – 7:00 pm – At last, install today's build.  Try to develop a good demo for Sales Training next week. Egad, the product is buggy. Lots of basic things don't work.  Start filing bugs.

7:00 pm – 7:10 pm – Notice that of the eight or so bugs the Cranky PM filed in the last hour, the Development Manager has already reclassified four of them as enhancements and has outright canceled two.

7:10 pm – 7:45 pm – Call the Development Manager at his home.  Argue about the bugs.  You can't just cancel everything that is not immediately reproducible. Some bugs only manifest sporadically. Get two of the "enhancements" reclassified back as bugs, and get the two canceled bugs reinstated.

7:45 pm – 8:30 pm – At last, identify a scenario that might work as a demo – highlighting the new product features, works with a hypothetical but close-to-real-world business scenario, and avoids most of the products warts and broken bits of functionality.

8:30 pm – 10:30 pm – Drive home before Delightful Husband files for divorce.  Eat dinner, do bills, wash dishes, etc.  Run for 30 minutes on the treadmill — a good stress relief technique.

10:30 pm – 12:00 am – Handle another 60 emails that came in during the day.  Most can be deleted, but some require responses.

12:00 am – Do a blog post. Try to sleep. But too much coffee throughout the day keep her up. Fantasize about that commission check again, even though she knows she'll never see a dollar of it. Remember that she forgot to bitch about "visionary" Product Marketing weenie on her blog.  Damn.

28 comments

  1. Praveena

    I so relate to the problem of finding the good build. Our VP Engineering monitors the official build status, but doesn’t actually ever install or use the products himself. So the dev team always CLAIMS the build good even if it doesn’t work at all. There’s no checks or balances…

    Hope tomorrow is more relaxing for you!

  2. Hank, Product Manager Extraordinaire

    Man (I mean ‘woman’), I had a situation like that with two sales people fighting over a customer while I was trying to do a requirements interview. AWKWARD. It happened when my company acquired another one — the fighting between the droids was NOT at all pretty.

  3. Ziv Gonen

    This is awesome. it’s amazing how PM’s all over the world and in different positions or responsibilities face the same problems with engineers, QA…
    I’m a PM in a software company in Israel.

    Loved it!!!!! going to send it to all my PM friends…

  4. Martin

    Hi,

    I was searching the net for information on how to become a product manager and found your blog and I am loving it. It reminds me a bit of Dilbert just more specific for PM. Definitely adding this blog to my RSS feed.

    Keep posting
    Martin

  5. daveclarke

    Hi Cranky,

    I am a PM at a non-profit in the UK – it’s no different except that I do the testing as well! Do you have a rule about no coffee in the afternoon?

  6. The Cranky Product Manager

    Why yes, you are correct sir, Mr. Clarke. The Cranky Product Manager does indeed have a rule about massive jolts of coffee after 1pm. But, alas, on some days her ass is dragging so badly that she must resort to a 3pm shot of espresso.

    Are you in product management at a software non-profit (are there such things??), or more around managing a service offering of some kind. The Cranky Product Manager is curious about product management in other industries.

  7. Lesli

    Holy crap – I love this. It is so perfect I can’t even stand it. I think I will use it in my new hire training.

  8. Dave Clarke

    I do manage the products for the non-profit, it’s very different than most non-profits in that it has a set of web products that are licensed to government, private sector and other non-profits, as ell as some that are free and use a sponsorship model.

    Tell me, do you feel the pull between the technical, business, executive and customers? I have to say that I constantly feel guilty for not listening enough to the exec, customers, techs, sales, and data teams!

  9. Seema Joshi

    So very true! Just this morning I was feeling majorly flustered about the seemingly endlessly chaotic schedules I’ve been keeping, jumping between umpteen things to address through the day. Reading this sprang back a smile :).

    It’s always nice to read your ‘midnight’ blog posts – thank you :)

  10. Andrea

    I often come to this site to make sure I’ve not lost my mind at my day job. Thank you, for a desperately needed sanity check.