Thomas Pendergast Vladeck home

Product management is a dark art

At least according to Ty White.

My primary career objective is to conceive and commercialize new products.

So, post startup, I’m looking to work in product management. I love the cross functional role and the fact that you’re responsible for delivering (I like having the ball).

I’ve been speaking with as many product managers as possible. Through my conversations with people in that role I now believe the title is a pretty accurate statement.

It's an art, not a science

The way that Angelist became a huge success and is reshaping the startup funding space is very different from, for example, how Tesla got its start. Angelist started out as an email-only product that served a community and kept adding features. It’s very easy to see how Angelist followed a “lean” model of product development. It’s very hard to see how Tesla followed any development model other than simply imagining, and then building, the future. Both are successes. So what’s the lesson?

To borrow a phrase from Warren Buffett, it seems that every product management team has their own “batting stance”.

It's dark (as in obscure)

Product managers don’t have as much of a community - either online or offline - as other product development and corporate functions. From the outside, it’s harder to see exactly what a PM does. (And it definitely means different things in different companies).

Engineers have Github, designers have Behance and Dribbble - what do PMs have to show off new product concepts? If you know the answer, please post it as a response to this Quora question.

I’ll note: Quirky is pretty cool for physical products. But it’s less about showcasing your skill than it is about actually developing a product with a community input. And at the risk of entering a meta-cycle, Quirky’s main goal is to upend the product development cycle at large consumer brands like Proctor & Gamble.

Help me (and others)

Even arts can have well-understood processes and paradigms. In software development, some programmers might use Java and take an object-oriented approach while others might use Clojure and use a functional approach, or use Go and write procedural code. Between those three, and others, there’s no “right” or “wrong” but there are paradigms that other developers understand. Although I don’t know design nearly as well, I’m sure there are similar paradigms that define different approaches.

Amazon, for instance, has a fairly standard PM approach outlined here. This seems to be a great process. Is it an instance of a particular PM paradigm? If so, what are the other paradigms that PMs understand?