Top Tips for Preparing for a Career in Product Management (A Cynical Joke Thread)

Top Tips for Preparing for a Career in Product Management (A Cynical Joke Thread)

Now presenting, @Liminal_Warmth’s top tips for preparing for a career in product management:

1) Practice explaining the difference between product management, project management, and program management to people in the mirror so you can learn to mask your despair when you realize they still have no fucking idea what you do for a living

2) Buy a whiteboard and practice drawing arrows, boxes, and dollar signs until they look crisp, smooth, and flawless on the first pass. Execs love a nice crisp dollar sign.

3) People often go into product management because they want to connect with users and make an impact through a carefully thought out and researched strategy. You won’t have time for that though, so kill those dreams early.

4) Communication is key to being a good product manager. That’s why it’s important to buy a bullhorn and shout your ideas louder than everyone else in the room until they submit to your brilliance.

5) You probably have a deep understanding of your users and lots of data at your fingertips that can help improve the product. But the CEO’s buddy had a killer idea for a new feature this weekend, and it’s definitely better. Practice submission.

6) Pitching well is an invaluable skill! Practice cramming as much data as possible onto each PowerPoint slide to head off annoying requests and make your presentation intimidating enough that no one asks questions.

7) You’ll need a good roadmap to help convey your vision to the team! Spend weeks learning the ins and outs of tools like Aha! or ProductPlan so that you have something pretty to point helplessly at when your VP tells you that all the goals are changing again this quarter

8) One of the hardest things about being a product manager is learning to say “no” to people gracefully when they have a good request that isn’t a priority—practice saying “yes” and then coming up with variations on “the team reprioritized after you left” to avoid icky conflict

9) Remember that no one is ever convinced by data! Learn to tap into people’s emotions by handing out candy and showing pictures of puppies surrounded by bags of money a lot when sharing your vision

10) How are your project management skills? Maybe you didn’t intend to go into project management, but it’s now your primary job. Don’t worry, all of the other directors have strategy covered and will give you all the ideas you need.

11) Learning to instrument and monitor the right KPIs will be critical to your success in this role. That way, when everyone has ignored or directly contradicted your advice, you’ll have all the evidence you need to explain why it’s not your fault that we missed the sales numbers

12) You’ll probably still be blamed for the bad sales numbers because if people ignore you, you’re probably not persuasive enough. That’s why it’s best to learn to blame marketing early. They have even less evidence that they’re making an impact than you do.

13) Good metrics are often the key to your success. But being able to make up numbers that are hard to verify and look really good is an even better key to your success. Bonus points for half-learning SQL so you can pretend it was an error in your query if anyone calls you out

14) One of the best things about product management is how much direct power you have to arbitrarily choose what the team works on. Just kidding! But everyone will believe this about you so it’s important to practice being comfortable with people being mad at you.

15) It’s important to have a 3-5 year vision so that you can make steady progress toward your product goals and don’t get lost in day to day minutiae. But it’s more important to prove you did something this month, so practice shipping something every week, even if pointless

16) Because primary research and direct contact with users is the best way to understand their motivations, you should spend a lot of time with them. But that’s hard and annoying and expensive, so just optimize for whatever they’re clicking on and claim victory if sales go up

17) Remember that making an impact is nice, but what REALLY matters is everyone knowing you made an impact. That’s why you should figure out who’s doing the important work for the company and then tell everyone it was your idea, ideally when they’re not in the room.

18) Developers sometimes hate product managers because they think you prioritize easy money over building an app that’s extensible and maintainable. If you can overload them with tech debt faster than they can complain, you’ll wear them out and break their spirits. Problem solved

19) Cooperation with sales and marketing is essential for any good product manager, because they have all the best schmoozers and liars and you’ll be able to learn valuable career skills there

20) Make sure to dress up and look really cute for executive presentations because the board will be 40% more likely to say they like your ideas if they want to bang you.

This applies to men too. Not all the men on the board are straight! Some are closeted.

21) Another tip for the ladies: It really helps to learn to be one of the guys. Drink a lot, play golf, talk sports and fintech. Avoid chick topics.

This way everyone will feel a lot more comfortable with you when they go out without you and make the important decisions.

22) You’ll want to learn to plan a carefully orchestrated launch to maximize market impact. But sometimes things run behind schedule and you’ll miss stuff. Better to ignore your instincts and just ship whatever’s ready on a Friday so you don’t bleed into the next sprint.

23) Management of software development goes through lots of iteration and it can be hard to stay up on the latest trends. Instead of having to learn or letting the devs meddle, just practice saying “agile” and “continuous delivery” a lot and cram everyone into a waterfall model.

24) Your UI and UX team can be some of your best friends and key to deeply understanding your users and making good design decisions. Be sure to learn to soothe their feelings as you’re ignoring all their advice to get the CEO’s weird pet feature at the front of the interface.

25) Your devs are the lifeblood of your app and often have great ideas. But since the exec team knows they’re also lazy liars, be sure to monitor their productivity and hold them to consistently producing X lines of code or story points every week to keep them at peak output

26) It’s good to remember how lucky everyone in the tech department (including you) is to be drawing high salaries compared to the company average. That way you’ll feel less bad about it when bad decisions and planning lead to 150-hour work weeks and everyone blames you.

27) As a product manager, it’s very important to research your competitors and deeply understand your market. But that takes time and focus. Just set up a google alert for your three biggest competitors, delete the emails when you get them, and go with your gut.

28) Gracefully retiring a feature is tricky and people will always complain about it when you deprecate something—it’s stressful and risky. That’s why it’s best to give the job to the most junior member of the team and tell them it’s a good learning experience.

29) One of the most rewarding experiences in product management is being able to take more junior PMs under your wing and getting involved with their work. That way you can take credit for all their good ideas and blame them when things go wrong.

30) When you’re not sure if a feature is valuable, sometimes it’s a good idea to turn it off and see how it impacts the numbers. This is risky, though, so it might be better to just give it to your least favorite dev to maintain forever as a side project.

31) Be sure to capture any idea that anyone gives you in a JIRA ticket so that you can say you’re evaluating it and move that much more quickly toward calling the backlog “overwhelmingly full of bad ideas”, declare bankruptcy, and archive the whole thing

32) You’ll want to practice getting very good at articulating your ideas in written form and anticipating objections. Put them all into a long word document and print it out, so you have something to cuddle as you cry alone in your bed at night because no one ever reads them.

33) Pick up a little JavaScript on the weekends. It’s basically the same as Java and you’ll be totally qualified to weigh in on big architectural decisions for your technical platform. If anyone questions your expertise you can punish them by putting them on bug duty for a bit

34) Be sure to second-guess all the estimates your devs give you. They’re often wrong. The ideal way to do this is add up all the time they think a feature will take, cut off 20%, and then pick an arbitrary date for delivery because sales promised a customer it’d be ready by then

35) When you’re evaluating new features against each other for prioritization, there’s an easy formula you can use to gauge which one should be built first:

(total dollars someone else said it could make * amount the CEO is excited about it)

Be sure to have your scapegoat ready

36) Other product managers at the company aren’t your competition! If you piss them all off, you’re not going to have ANYONE who wants to hang out with you at the bar and cry after work.

37) Product managers are seen as leaders, and so it’s important to model vulnerability and authenticity! Only do this in ways that make you LOOK authentic and vulnerable though, because none of your leaders are actually being vulnerable or authentic with you either

38) It’s so important to always start your day by looking through user feedback, because this is the time of day when people are statistically most likely to drop by your desk unannounced and you need to look like you’re paying attention to that

39) When thinking about taking your next steps in your career as a product manager, it can be hard to know exactly what skills to build. Farming or animal husbandry are great choices for when the dystopian power games eventually crush your spirit and you need to eat.

40) At the end of the day, your job as a product manager is all about delighting your users. Revenue comes easily when you have good product-market fit.

But users don’t know what they want, so just ignore them and build whatever you’re told to. You’ll have to do that anyway.

I sincerely hope you’ve all enjoyed this (mostly) very jokey thread and do your best to not do any of these things. Good luck out there kids. It can be brutal.

But also very rewarding. ❤️

Also, if anyone I’ve ACTUALLY worked with happens to see this thread...

Don’t @ me, you know how true it is.