Is Product Management like Parenting?
Love your Product.
In a recent lecture I gave, I compared product management to parenting. While I was still preparing the lecture, I heard a similar comparison in a Product X conference I attended. It was a lecture given by Paz Davidovich named “Product managers? Congratulation! You are mother and father!”.
Combining my initial thoughts with the additional inspiration, below are some reasons why the two can be compared, how the analogy can help you become a better product manager, and in which cases they are very different.
For those not yet parents themselves, accept my apology. The reading ahead may feel a little disturbing to you.
Focus on Impact
Each one of us always wants the best for their children. There are so many things we dream for them. But their dreams may be different from ours. If we take it down to the basics, I would reduce it to only two things. I want them to be happy and I would like them to be “human” and have some basic values they approach the world with.
A product is not different. At the end of the day, the product happiness is represented by happy customers and the product basic values can be defined by a set of product principles you want this product to follow (for more about product principles, see Framing Product Decisions and Product Principles = Better Products).
Respect its Uniqueness
All children are beautiful and smart when they are born, and when they grow we want them to be popular.
Products are not different. They are born with great potential, but we should be careful when comparing them to other products. We do want our product to be popular and successful, but we need to remember that each product may have its own pace and grows differently.
There is not a single parent that never experienced a major tantrum. This is most embarrassing in public places. As your children grow they learn to control their feelings.
Newborn products have their own tantrums, which require a lot of compassion to them and to the development team that takes care of them. Until a product reaches maturity, it’s not unheard of to wake in the middle of the night with a performance crisis or a customer behavior you did not expect and need to be dealt urgently.
Don’t panic. These are normal growing pains. Everybody has to pass them, and for each product they are both different and similar.
Pick your Battles
Children are very smart. They know by instinct where are your weak points. As a parent you need to know where let it go and where to be tough, as pointed out by Neriyah Oren. You want to choose deliberately when to insist and when to lose so your children learn what is more important.
Products, and the teams that build them, are very similar. If you want to make sure that the product vision is kept and that the team is focused and happy, you need to know when to insist on priorities and when to let your team choose the priorities. More on this in Treat Your Roadmap as a Compass.
We all want to protect our children and keep them safe. But growing means failing and learning on the way.
You should let your product find its own way in the world. Don’t be afraid to release control and let it fall from time to time as long as you and the team learn from the process and the product gets better with each experience.
The Big Difference
There is one big thing in which products are not like children. When a child fails you should be there to support them.
When a product fails, sometimes you need to be there and support and there are extreme cases where you need to let it die because it’s not the right product.
Product management can be easily compared to many things. While never accurate, such comparisons help us take things in the right proportion.
At the end of the day it is not about the comparison itself, but rather about remembering that you need to take good care of your product and your team and never forget to read between the lines because product management is about people and trust.