Feeling like a product fraud

Throughout my career as a Product Manager, I’ve had several existential crises, thinking that the job I was doing did not reflect what I imagined a Product Manager should be doing. Several years into being a PM, I came to realise that no-one really does this ‘typical PM role’ I imagined, because it doesn’t exist in the real world, and that is the beauty of the job.

I’ve listed some of the moments in my career where I’ve felt like a fraud and why – with hindsight – I now know better.

Because there are no developers on my team…

When I started in my current role, my team was very odd, it was multi-disciplinary, but lacked the roles I was used to — developers and QA engineers, or a visual/UX designer. My team had a user researcher, a delivery manager (akin to a scrum master) and a content designer. Needless to say I was rather clueless as to what I could do with that team constellation. Building anything would be rather tricky!

But then, I was working on a product that wasn’t yet built and our team was this shape because we didn’t understand the problem space at all. Throwing a team of developers at the problem wouldn’t help, but the user researcher and designer were the right people to get the team to a place where we understood the problems better. And a few months later, we were ready to welcome a developer into the team and start building!

By that point, I had understood that as a PM I was just as qualified to set the vision and advocate for our users in a team without developers. The skills of product management equally apply in a team with different types of expertise — be that designers, researchers, data scientists or even policy experts.

Because I am also doing UX design, user research, QA and making sure the printer doesn’t run out of ink

Like many, when I first learned about product management I was in a job already acting as a PM. I was translating the needs of our users and stakeholders into stories and providing the necessary context for our developers to build our product. However, next to that I was also doing a lot of other jobs, such as drawing wire-frames, doing user research and testing the product. It was difficult to feel like a legitimate product manager.

However, looking back this was a wonderful opportunity. Not only was it my route into the role of PM, it has also given me a huge appreciation for some of the other disciplines. In small startups, this can certainly happen, and there are also plenty of project or consultant roles that are disguises for a product role. So forget your job title and feel included in the product community.

Because I am executing orders from senior management…

As a PM you can be in a situation, where you want to represent your users but senior management is much more keen for you to just do what they say. You can fight back with the user research you do and the analytics, but ultimately if senior management doesn’t offer you the freedom to build the product based on your users’ needs, then they are simply not doing their job right. And it certainly isn’t on you. I was legitimately a PM, I was just in the wrong place.

Have you ever felt like a product fraud? I would love to hear your experiences!


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