10 Things The Cranky Product Manager Has Learned About Product Management

Here’s some stuff the Cranky Product Manager has learned during her (not that) long and (wicked) illustrious career.

Readers, add your own “10 things” that you’ve learned about product management in the comments.

1. On overly-complex pricing models: If the sales force wants you to give them a training class on the pricing model, then your pricing model is too complicated.  If your price list is more than 6 pages, it is too complicated.  If you have more than 3 basic product configurations (example: Starter, Standard, Enterprise), it is too complicated for your Sales Droids, your prospects, and your customers. But mark the Cranky Product Manager’s words, you WILL one day be tempted to create all manner of add-on options and product combinations.  It happens to the best of us.  Those freakin’ Option Pushers are always hanging around the schoolyard, offering the first hit for free.  But JUST SAY NO.  Otherwise, watch your sales cycle get ever longer, your customers get suspicious and impatient, and your costs SOAR for product development, customer support, marketing, training, sales, business development, documentation, partner and sales training, finance, and order processing (only professional services benefit from Option-itis).

2. On the illusion of technical genius:

For men, to make business-side people think you’re a technical genius, do the following: talk too loudly about how smart you are, sneer often at the technical credentials of others, denounce others’ suggestions as “trivial” or “non-trivial”, and walk around the office in your bare feet with food in your beard (What? You don’t have a beard?  GROW ONE NOW.  Even if it is scraggly.)

For women, to be thought of as a technical genius by anyone, you must do the following: earn a huge stack of patents, be a former computer science professor at a world-renowned Institute of Technology, have once been the lead architect on a product hailed as revolutionary by Wired magazine, be Asian, and be a really supportive and kind mom and mentor to all the young male engineer puppies.  Oh, and make sure you are NOT blond, don’t EVER wear makeup or skirts, and don’t be a bitch to other engineers, even occasionally. Even then, some 20-something Code Boy will start a whisper campaign that you are not very technically astute.

Oh, the above is for engineers. If you’re a Product Manager, give it up.  You will never have enough technical cred, whether you’re male or female. Period.  Get over it and play the game based on your other charms and skills.

3. On dumbassery: If your VP of Engineering thinks the target customer is just like him (notice the lack of “/her”), you’re doomed.

4. On dumbassery #2: If the VP of Marketing thinks the target customer is just like him/her, you’re doomed.

5. On early-stage start-ups: At most early-stage start-ups, the CEO/founder is the real Product Manager.  The person with the “Product Manager” title is a demo monkey, a data sheet generator, and comes up with requirements by officially documenting whatever the CEO/Founder brain-farted in the last meeting.  Have fun being a glorified admin. Note: this also applies at Apple.

6. On Product Managers who still code: For every month you are in product management, your ability to code degrades by six months.

7. On awards for Product Managers: If you want to get an award from Sales at the annual Kick-off Awards Banquet, create an awesome product demo, insist that you are the only person capable of giving said demo, and constantly ride shotgun on sales calls.  That’s right, become a Sales Engineer despite your Product Manager title.  But if you want to do the RIGHT thing for the product instead of for your ego, create an awesome product demo, teach it to the Sales Engineers and RECORD it for posterity so they can learn to do it on their own (after the hangover they had during the training class dissipates).  But sorry, no Sales award for you. Want an award that isn’t from Sales?  Good luck. There aren’t any.

8. On the usual Product Marketing activities: 80% of the “standard” product marketing activities have zero or negative return on investment, and  95% of product marketers don’t give a s#!% and just do them anyway.  Seriously, no one reads data sheets…. but that doesn’t stop product marketers from producing them!  And trade shows do almost nothing to drum up qualified prospects, yet even in this crap economy companies are still wasting man-years of time on them.  Nowadays, let’s add Twitter and Facebook and blogging to the “suspect ROI”  list.  The stuff that does have a high ROI is often unexpected, but who knows what really works unless you actually measure it! SO….if you ever end up in charge of product marketing, start measuring ROI on each marketing activity.  Even a very imprecise measure is better than nothing.  That means calculating the cost and figuring out how effective your collateral pieces are at getting leads to become qualified prospects to become customers.  This seems like a lot of work, but trust the Cranky Product Manager, it is a lot less work than wasting your time writing useless (yet beautifully formatted) product briefs that only your competition will read.

9. On product communities: If you build a product community, NO ONE will come…. until you hire people to populate it with content that is *genuinely *useful to your target audience (no rehashing of press releases!).  Maybe then you can get get that snowball rolling down the hill, so it can grow into a huge snow MONSTER of DOOM.

10. On colors and fonts and crap like that: As a Product Manager, stay the HELL away from marketing/branding meetings where they discuss color schemes and fonts and logos and tag lines.  You will be very annoyed by the huge amount of time and resources being spent on this, when both the Product Manager and the Engineering teams are so grossly short-handed (as they always are).  Trust the Cranky Product Manager on this.  Besides, you probably suck at the whole visual branding/design thing anyway.  Most Product Managers are.  Have you seen the way most of us dress?  You, sir/madam, are no Don Draper.  So shut up and stay out of it.  Go back to interviewing customers and identifying market problems or something.


  1. Ivan Lybbert

    11. If the company you work for is a Sales driven company (as opposed to Market driven), watch out! You’ll find that your market research is disregarded for “what can be sold next quarter”. This is very similar to number 5 above – same hot dog, just different mustard.

    Great insight CPM!

  2. Geoffrey Anderson

    First things first: @Adrienne – Amen SISTER. I worked for a GM who was at a start up, and that experience, combined with his staying at a Holiday Inn Express made him an expert on marketing. Bad idea, and I am glad to have escaped that personal hell.

    12. If you work at an engineering driven company (first hint is being invited into a “requirements” discussion somewhere around phase three of the PLC – a “dark” development program that has drained progress on your REAL projects), you have been asked to write requirements around what engineering is building. As in #11 above, market research, and customer input is neither wanted, nor heeded.

    (Great post CPM!)

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  4. Peter Hanschke

    Hilarious … but so true. I’m pretty sure that I have all of those scars – including 11 and 12. My standard retort to 3 and 4 (or anyone in the company who claims to be the target customer) is “the day you plunk down $1M for this application is the day you become a target customer; until then thanks for the opinion”. I also often let dev know that my coding skills are still sharp … Fortran, Algol, etc.

    Thanks for this.

  5. She-Ra

    Preaching to the Choir! I have years of experience as a Software engineer, and the second they changed my title, suddenly I was “Product Management” and told I was technically inept. WTF. Sometimes it sucks being a girl.

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  8. Henrik Kenani Dahlgren

    True story!

    One of the best post, i was laughing out loud when I read it. I am a former PM who turned Solution Architect (call me a traitor…) and every line above is true :D

  9. G Gillen

    Caveman analogy:
    As PM, you may:

    1) Know the ways of the Mammoth
    2) Make the best spears
    3) Know the mammoth feeding grounds
    4) Know how to lure the Mammoth to your hunting party
    5) Know how to serve mammoth (after cooking)
    6) Know how to make clothes and tools from Mammoth leftovers

    But the caveman who threw the spear to bring the Mammoth down will always get the hot cave women and the glory. That is the way of the PM Shaman.

  10. Anonymous

    Most of this I have also experienced in some form or another, but there is a saying that says it all: “Life is not fair. Take advantage of it.”
    So go out there and kick ass like you know you can do. You are She-Ra, dammit…. Maybe I will never get taken seriously by some, but I continue to wear make-up and skirts anyway. (Eff-em’.)

    We adapt whether we know it or not. I myself have noticed that I speak in a deeper voice for technical explanations. And I use engineer-speak (never say “thing” … say “device.” And if you can fit the words ‘flange’ or ‘instantiation’ in there, do so. Heck, throw the whole O’Reilly library in there.)

  11. Paco

    3. On dumbassery: If your VP of Engineering thinks the target customer is just lik him (notice the lack of “/her”), you’re doomed.

    The “/her” part is pure gold :)

    And to G Gillen, I hope all our careers ultimately lead to hot cave women. Sounds like a good goal to use in my next one-on-one review.

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