The Product Manager’s Mini-Existential Crisis

There’s a running joke around Product Management that the most difficult question to answer is “What do you do for a living?”

Just a few months ago, I overheard my wife get asked what I did for a living. Her response?

“He used to write software, but I don’t really know now…”

I just had to chuckle a little bit. It’s not an easy question for me to answer either.

Because if I could answer “I’m a doctor”, “I’m a lawyer”, “I’m a nurse”, “I build [insert thing here]”, or “I’m a software developer”, you’d probably be satisfied (and maybe have a follow up of “Hey, could you look at…” or “My computer’s been acting weird…”). But “I’m a Product Manager” doesn’t really answer any questions. In fact, you’re more likely to get “What’s that?” as a response.

And some of that is because Product Management isn’t a “do-er” role. We don’t make the software. We don’t provide the support. We don’t sell the product. We don’t create the marketing. We don’t keep the books. Yet, we’re involved in all of it.

It also doesn’t help that there’s still not a lot of consistency in the profession. You can take a look at two job listings for the same title and see drastic discrepancies in the responsibilities, experience, expectations and pay for those roles. (We’ll explore this further in the future.)

However, if I were to boil it down, it’d probably come down to this:

“I help define where our product needs to be, and work with various teams to make sure we get there.”

It’s not glamorous, but it might just be enough.

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