Product manager, or Renaissance (wo)man?

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Look at Leonardo da Vinci’s areas of interest: inventing, painting, sculpting, architecture, science, music, mathematics, engineering, literature, anatomy, geology, astronomy, botany, writing, history, and cartography… 36 total as someone has counted. He has been also called the father of paleontology, ichthyology, and architecture, and is considered one of the greatest painters of all time.

Polymath or Product Manager?

Courtesy of Jean Barbaud.

Who could manage such broad area of interests nowadays? Not even manage–who dares to say that they can do more than one thing? As my colleague Rich Berman had observed:

“It’s human nature to try to cast a wide net, but it’s better to present yourself as an expert in a few things than a generalist in many areas.”

The phrase to stress here is “to present.” It is fine to have many areas of interest; just don’t tell everyone about all of them! Being a generalist or “jack of all trades” can have negative connotations. But would Leonardo have invented a helicopter if he wasn’t so interested in botany and birds?

I believe there are positions that require knowledge of many domains. Product Management for example. In the case of a product manager in a software company, we may not get our hands dirty in the code, but we do need to have endless curiosity about technology so we can drive product enhancements (and sometimes it gives us a bit of leverage, when we know what can be done).

As the subject matter experts we need to know what and how to market, and work closely with our marketing counterparts to create compelling marketing campaigns. We need to know how to sell our products, so it never hurts to be part of a sales call, and we need to make sure that the price is right. Once we have a price structure, we need to talk to finance department to accurately translate that into appropriate SKUs and make sure that order administration knows how to fulfill an order.

Due to a deep-seated need for control we probably have spent enough time in each mentioned department to get a job within. And let’s not forget the motivational speaker aspect of product management. Typically, a product manager has responsibility without authority, which means we need to be able to motivate people from many different teams to do things for us, even though they do not report to us directly…fun, isn’t it? Write a whitepaper, create a presentation, train the trainer, support the supporters…an endless list of required skills, so it seems. Most importantly, we have to be good listeners, so we can turn customer wish lists into product features that will make their lives easier. Because let’s face it–what’s a product without customers?

So maybe next time you see PM title by somebody’s name, you will not think “eh, another Product Manager,” but “oh, there is a polymath!

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I am a Product Manager at Rocket by day and an artist by night. I love to paint, sketch, sculpt and make hats. Yes, hats.

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