June 29, 2024

Product Manager

A role that is poorly defined, ill-equipped, and often a hindrance to product goals. Is there hope or is it bullshit?

~ 1 min

A Little Context

I once worked as a technical product manager for an LA-based web agency and before that, for a start-up in the Midwest. I've served in the role for two years. Over the course of that year I became disillusioned by what felt like a bullshit job. Not only did it serve no real purpose, but felt like an impediment to the team, and worse, a vehicle by which the developers on my teams could be assessed, micro-managed, and often fired.

I initially wanted to title this post "Pro____ Manager" since there are commonalities between the titles of project manager, product manager, program manager, and even product owner. However, I never served in three of these roles and it felt disingenuous to try to speak to those positions.

If you've ever held one of these titles or felt curious to understand their differences, you may have been disappointed by the explanations in search results. They often mention subtle differences in their time horizons, respective stakeholders, or soft skills. Sometimes it is explained as the task of managing a short-term project or product and other times it is a managerial position that spans an entire department or organization.

I'm not surprised that as the ZIRP era came to an end, mid-level pro____ managers were laid-off throughout the tech industry. Mark Zuckerberg notoriously gave his managers an ultimatum: become individual contributors (ie write code) or leave Meta. He and others have describing these overhauls as attempts at creating more "efficiency", trimming bloated middlemen in org charts, and restructuring into leaner teams.