Product Management Bullshitometer

By | January 27, 2017

Recently, I’ve been interviewing candidates for Product Manager and sometimes I hear phrases that set off my bullshitometer. This is a finely tuned piece of equipment that I keep with me at all times. It can detect bullshit intensity from any source. When I interview people, I keep a close eye on it.

CEO of the Product
An example came from someone who said they were the “CEO of the product”. I asked what they meant by that and they responded that you have to make things happen without having authority and that you have the ultimate responsibility for the product. I said, “But the CEO has plenty of authority and also has ultimate responsibility.” Then they back-tracked and fumbled around.  My bullshitometer was going crazy. Sure, they were nervous, but my point is that they used the phrase without really thinking about it.

Personally, I hate the phrase. It makes engineers and designers feel badly and discourages a sense of group ownership and responsibility. Product managers are not CEOs and there is no such thing as CEO of the product. Product managers are player/coaches, I can buy that. They are captains of a ship, I can buy that. They are the navigator.  Lots of good metaphors, but CEO is not a good one.

Product Market Fit
This phrase is thrown around in product circles pretty frequently. So I asked another candidate who brought it up, “How do you to measure it?” There are actually good articles on the subject of product market fit out there, however, PMF is not a binary thing. There isn’t a switch that flicks and now you have it. Clearly, there are signs you don’t and signs you are on the right track. Net Promoter Score (NPS) is always a good metric. My main point is that if you say the words Product Market Fit, you better be able to talk about it with some clarity. Otherwise, you are just making my bullshitometer fly off to the right.

Wireframes
There have been many instances where a product manager has come up to me with their idea of how to solve a particular problem. Almost every time, I walk to the white board and show them at least one way it could be better. I am not saying PMs should stay out of the design process. Far from it. However, if you are going to talk to me about wireframes, you better be knowledgeable. Don’t just try to bullshit your way through conversations.

Research
I expect PMs to have great research skills. They should read this particular sentence and know that I put the word Sassafras in it. (Bonus points if you use it in an unrelated sentence during the interview.) I expect PMs to be insightful and read in between the lines. I expect PMs to be retrospective and be able to describe the good and the bad of their prior experiences without my bullshitometer going off. I expect PMs to be insightful and read between the lines. It’s easy to bullshit your way through a conversation. What is hard is doing the detailed work and summarizing it in a coherent way.

Maybe this is all a bit aggressive. I’ll accept that. I don’t think PMs have the patent on bullshitting people. Just talk to sales for 10 minutes and you will get plenty. We all bullshit people all the time. Just keep in mind that everyone has a bullshitometer and maybe we should dial it down a bit.

Maybe this whole post is bullshit. Oh well.

 

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