In her Personality Matters series, Leslie Sachs examines the personalities and people issues that are found in technology groups from cross-functional, high-performance teams to dysfunctional matrix organizations.
Personality accounts for a lot. You can tell a great deal about how someone is going to handle a situation by understanding their personality. In fact, if you get really good at this game you can sometimes predict what they are going to do. Some people just can’t manage to the see the big picture, and that is often evident in how they approach their work, whether tactical project or a strategic product. If you want to be able to work with different personalities then you need to understand what motivates them to act, or in some cases, fail to act.
Product Managers need to be “big picture” thinkers. They excel at thinking about the long-term approach to successfully launching and managing a product. Many successful Product Managers have strong business backgrounds and see things from the essential “big picture” view. Some Product Managers may have technical backgrounds although that is not always the case. As compared to Product Managers, Project Managers often come with a different set of skills.
Project Managers are frequently experienced technology professionals. They often have a different perspective from the Product Manager, and usually come with a very different set of skills. Good Project Managers will help you get across the finish line whereas the good Product Manager will help you define the course for the whole marathon. Which expertise do you really need at which point?
Product and Project
Obviously you need to consider both the essential long-term and the short-term perspectives if you want to be in business for any reasonable period of time. Good managers should have a blend of skills that allow them to wear both hats as needed. I have seen many successful Project Managers have a great deal of difficulty managing from the broader product perspective. This seems surprising given that these same PMs have long been accustomed to meeting tight (read impossible) deadlines and excelling under pressure. That may actually be the source of this problem. They are used to being the hero and taking off that nice cape can be even more difficult to do.
Fear of Failure
Many managers achieve success after many years of hard work. They have developed skills, acquired knowledge and used their abilities to arrive at their current challenge. Take these same technology professionals and tell them to start planning and you may be surprised at just how many have difficultly moving from the tactical to the strategic role. Planning takes a lot of effort and is often impossible to do perfectly. Given the tall assignment, it is no wonder that many PMs fear that their plans will fall short and, worse yet, be found deficient by others. This doesn’t work well when your role is focused on the product perspective. Product Managers need to show the target releases and features expected from a long range perspective and always with a view towards being competitive with other companies operating in the same space.
The well-received Agile movement has done a good job of highlighting the futility of extensive planning. The thought of writing a large volume of Product requirements, 2 year plans and other documentation (that will never be read) is certainly not the way that most technology professionals want to work. Agile has done a good job of focusing on delivering working software that meets the customers needs using iterative development, self-managed teams and a strong focus on testing throughout the lifecycle. But even with effective Agile practices, many organizations still need to have effective product planning that is supported by effective project management.