Most of the heavy lifting that a product manager is responsible for is at the beginning of a project. They’re often in charge of customer validation, spec’ing things out, wireframes, prototyping, team building, etc. Once a project gets into the hands of developers, a product manager is still involved, but doesn’t have as much physical work to do. But some of the most important work is still left to do…
I’ve always believed that a product manager (or founder, since PMs are like mini-CEOs) should stay until the very end of a project and make sure it’s launched successfully. They need to see things through to completion and own that process. In some cases, product managers are responsible for the launch, but there’s almost always that period of crunch time before a launch where developers are going to be putting in extra hours. Product managers don’t have much to do at that point except wait.
That’s precisely the time when a product manager needs to be involved, even if he’s not really doing a lot of work. Instead the product manager needs to be a cheerleader.
Cheerleading in an organization is important. Everyone needs the occasional boost and morale support, especially when pushing to launch something. Everyone needs positive reinforcement.
I’ve spent many late nights side-by-side with developers that were crunching. (I know crunching isn’t great for productivity, etc. but it happens.) Was I doing any work? Not really. But I was there to encourage them throughout the process. I was there to provide any support I could, fill in gaps, handle any grunt work that I was able to.
If you’re going to ask others to put in extra hours and work their asses off, then you owe it to them to be there too.
Last night was a pretty late one working with the GoInstant team to launch GoAngular v3. (GoAngular is our integration with AngularJS, making it really easy to build Angular apps using only client-side code; we handle the backend.) I didn’t do any of the coding. I didn’t even do much product management for it. But our main developer on the project, Matt Creager, was in for a late night, and so was I. That’s my job — to cheerlead and see things through until the end. I also helped where I could: reviewing docs, editing the announcement post, and tracking the tasks to make sure all the priorities were in order.
Product managers don’t need to stay up side-by-side with developers every single night. Some developers like working late (and starting late), and on a regular day-to-day basis, PMs don’t have to be there. But when there’s a critical project going out the door, the moral support and cheerleading matters. When you think about it, product managers have to be early risers and late sleepers, because we’re the ones working with customers and prospects and internal teams.
Product managers need an extreme sense of responsibility, bordering on the obsessive.
Product managers start projects and finish them. And finish doesn’t just mean launch–it means interacting with customers after the fact, collecting more feedback (which isn’t always good!) and then iterating again. You need an extreme sense of responsibility to see projects through until the end.
This post isn’t really about working late hours. Although that’s a reality in some cases, it’s really about the role of the product manager as cheerleader. Don’t underestimate the power of being present and throwing in an encouraging word during a crunch. I’ve found it genuinely helps and makes everyone feel better about the effort they’re putting in. It’s also your job.
Photo courtesy of clappstar.