The 5 types of Product Managers

Eduardo Alvim

2/17/20237 min read

black smartphone near person
black smartphone near person

Unfortunately, given what I’ve seen in the market, not many companies have a great discipline of product management. In most of the cases, these product managers and companies lack understanding of how to create a great product, that customers will love. Leading to all the sort of wastes one can imagine: massive amount of underused products, wasted development effort, investments that could have been redirected to more strategic initiatives. And the list could go on and on....

When teaching my classes around the world, I use to say:

"A product misconceived or output oriented, will end up by changing your office's coffee machine. And not for a better one!"

Here the non-extensive list of steps:

  1. Invest an interesting amount of money in a product that is misconceived or outcome oriented.

  2. This money will not generate the expected results and won’t come back in a form of revenue, impacting the financial result of your company.

  3. Next quarter (or year) “townhall meeting”, the CEO or equivalent of your company will announce the strategic objective to reduce costs. The infamous “Do more with less”.

  4. The first guilty one will be that coffee machine of yours. The one you are always complaining about the taste of the coffee served. Meanwhile, the poor one is laying there, always available to be used by you and your colleagues.

  5. That Friday (yes, bad news is always coming on Fridays), you receive an email from the HR director (or VP) celebrating they will deploy new coffee machines in all units.

  6. That will bring more quality coffee to all the employees because quality for our people is priceless!

  7. Your old bud crappy coffee is back, in a “I’m even worse” version of itself. But now, the super ultra-mega coffee machine has lots of colored buttons so you can have “gourmet coffee” options. But you must pay for them!

When you reach the 7th step, be careful. It means, things are going south!

It’s time to turn the ship!

Aÿe, Captain!

Who, in this case, would be the captain?
If you thought about Product Managers, you are 100% correct!

Product Managers have the unique ability to influence everything that is done, the way it’s done and how it’s done. Need an example: Defining a feature for a new product in a particular way, can influence on how the teams will arrange themselves to develop and deploy it. The same happens within the same team.

I’m not (much) pretentious to want to teach PMs on how to define great products, but over my years observing, helping, and discussing with a huge amount of very competent people, I could identify 5 types of dysfunctional Product Managers within organizations, that will turn your coffee machine into a “gourmet” one.

From now on, I’m going to refer Product Managers as PMs. You know: for the sake of optimization and things…

2. The Passionate - I’m in love with this solution. Problem? Which problem?

The most seen type of PM. This professional is always available to suggest a new feature, a new product that will be loved by all the customers. Without any empirical data, no customer survey whatsoever, the Builder will lead hordes of avid teams for doing something different.

Both will never question the PM. Will never require understanding “the why”. After all, the PM must know what is doing and has all the trust from these teams.

Then the development starts, it’s a great party! Tons of meetings to define the technology to be used, the dependencies between teams, the risks, the constellation of partners that will be required on this effort.

It’s amazing the amount of work generated and billable hours. Lots of micro-projects are starting to pop-up so everyone can unite, re-unite, and disband as quick as Buzz Lightyear goes above and beyond!

Amazing demos of the new functionalities are arranged with great feedback from Business Owners, managers saluting their team members and a great ambiance of confidence and trust is built.

Then, there is the release to the market.

Radio silence.

Business managers are calling their preferred and most loyal customers to talk about the new functionalities and how the product has now been elevated to a whole different level. A handful of them respond positively and want to try. Not anyone else.

What was once a promising star product is now relegated to ostracism. But it was a good idea though.

Next time, we will make it better. I have a great idea, says the PM!

This is the tale of John, the PM. John has been a PM for many years now. He is brilliant. A great mind, one would say about him.

John has many qualities, among them, he is very respected in the whole company, because on the back of his ideas, the company could thrive over the last decade, at least. John, lately, has been having these out-of-the-box ideas, which are great, in fact. He is mastering the ancient art of having a vision: Seeing things that no one else can see.

Last January was not different. John had another great vision for a product and, naturally, he got approval immediately without even having to ask for it. He got excited. Assembled a few of his best work fellas and they started working. After a few iterations, they’ve presented the first version of the new product. It was beautiful!

As I heard, it was the best user experience ever. They considered it to be John’s masterpiece.

In his head, John repeated that famous sentence: “Parla!” Little John was in love.

But as any passion, it comes and goes in a fraction of seconds. The product didn’t correspond all the love John has demonstrated repeatedly.

They decided to split apart and follow different paths.

John still thinking about it, late at night, completely alone. Heartbroken. It was difficult to breathe. Then John said what any person who had a big passion like that could ever say in this situation:

Why? Why??

And he found the problem.

3. The Expert - I know what customers want!

4. The Scientist – KPIs are my playground

5. The Digital Influencer – I want everyone to follow me, so my job is to please them all

He/She is the rockstar! Crosses the corridor waving and smiling to everyone. He/She is a nice person, to which, everyone would like to be friends with. At least during the beginning.

The Digital Influencer has hard times on saying now to people.

One of the big risks with this approach is that The Digital Influencer wants to please all the stakeholders and parties so as, nobody gets what was promised. He/She will start creating all the sort of frustration everywhere, as the promises are not delivered.

Soon, He/she will receive a “cancelling” and will be ostracized.

A Product Manager should not try to please all stakeholders in a company because it is not always possible or beneficial for the product. Why?

  1. Conflicting priorities: Stakeholders within a company may have different priorities, goals, and perspectives on the product. A Product Manager may not be able to please all stakeholders if their goals and objectives are not aligned.

  2. Limited resources: The capacity to deliver all the promises might not be available at the needed time. If they try to please all stakeholders, they will be tempted to influence to have maximize the utilization of people, which can be a huge trap

  3. Compromise on product vision: A Product Manager should have a clear vision and strategy for the product. If they try to please all stakeholders, they may be forced to make compromises that can dilute the product vision.

  4. Difficult to measure success: It can be difficult to establish clear and measurable success metrics for the product.

  5. The goal of a Product Manager is to maximize the product value, whether it’s for the company or the customer. In order to do that, the Product Manager needs to be able to make trade-offs and decisions that align with the overall product strategy and goals and not to please everyone.

1. The Builder: A Feature Factory approach

Every company has an expert. Big companies, many.

The expert is someone that is appreciated, because the respect was earned and is very well deserved. There is only one problem with the expert: He knows it all! No one can challenge THE expert because the expert is THE EXPERT. Simple as that.

The scientist has a huge number of KPIs, dashboards, all the numbers and blinking lights everywhere.

There is so many data, so much information, however, there is one problem: The scientist does not make any relation between this information, no intelligence is extracted out of it to take decisions. To a certain extent, it’s a huge waste of bits and bytes.

There are a few reasons why a Product Manager may not want to focus too heavily on Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) when managing a product:

  • Over-reliance on KPIs can lead to a focus on short-term goals rather than long-term vision: If a Product Manager is solely focused on hitting specific KPI targets, they may neglect the broader goals and vision for the product.

  • KPIs can be misleading: Some KPIs may not accurately reflect the success of a product or feature and can lead the Product Manager to make decisions based on inaccurate data.

  • KPIs are not always actionable: Some KPIs may not provide clear guidance on what action should be taken, making it difficult for a Product Manager to make decisions based on them.

It's important for a Product Manager to be aware of all of these limitations and not to rely only on KPIs, but rather use them as a tool in combination with other methods, experimentation from data, feedback and others, so they can have an effective evaluation of the performance and desirability of the products created.