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The lonely product manager

Product management often feels like a lonely profession. It might be counter-intuitive for non-product-managers.
- You work with some many people across most of the business, - they might say.
That's true, you work with many people but belong to few. Or none.

Even in a group of fellow product managers, an individual contributor might feel isolated. It's like reaching for the same mountain peak, taking different routes. You share a goal (product vision), you might share some gear (tactics, processes) but every step (decision) is yours to make. And the radio (communication) is often disrupted.

With other teams, the situation might be even more challenging. In theory, the entire organisation should strive to fulfil one vision. In practice though, every part of the business has its own, intermediary goals. As PMs, we'll work with other teams to achieve mutually beneficial outcomes. However, we continue to be outsiders. The jokes around PM - devs or PM - sales tensions exist for a reason.

A product manager could feel especially lonely when she's working with a distributed team. Sending countless gifs on Slack is great, but it still not a real substitute for sitting next to your peers or going for lunch together.

All the above relates to the direct responsibilities of a PM. But there are also considerations around professional development and career progression for a product manager. Some companies are pretty good about professional development. They have plans, support of senior management and an HR department. However, there are plenty of smaller companies that don't provide such support to their employees. Say you work in such a company. Maybe you are the only PM there. What do you have at your disposal? No one to talk to about your career, little expertise is around to help you become better PM. Pretty lonely, huh?

So what can you do to feel less lonely as a PM?

Share with your colleagues and maybe they'll share back

Recently, a junior person on my team told me she often wanted to ask for a tip from other PMs around writing better user stories. But she didn't.
- I felt like it's a stupid question, - she said.
But it's not! Even PMs with decades of experience under their belt can learn a thing or two if they talk to each other. If they ask "stupid" questions.

Creating a culture of sharing is difficult. However, you can start relatively simply by sharing yourself. If you share consistently, not intrusively and relevantly - chances are high that your peers will reciprocate or, at least, feedback.

Get outside the office and talk to other PMs

It could become much less lonely when you go to a product meetup or a conference and meet fellow PMs. You might suddenly discover a lot of people struggling with the same problems you do. You can get quick advice or start a long-lasting friendship.

Some people (including myself) cringe by the sound of the word "networking". It's uncomfortable, tiring and often pointless. However, occasionally it might lead to a new idea or an opportunity. If you dread it nonetheless - don't feel obliged, listen to a talk, it might bring value.

Find a co-pilot

Sabrina Rzepka in her talk at Jam London 2019, highlighted the importance of finding a co-pilot when you're a PM. This simple-sounding concept could make or break your experience being a PM. A "co-pilot" or a "partner in crime", whatever you prefer, is your best work buddy. It's someone with whom you share your goals and help each other to reach them.

It doesn't have to be a direct collaborator. It well might be a person from a different department, higher or lower in organisation hierarchy than you are. You are in touch regularly, speak candidly and you trust each other. You are striving for shared goals or helping each other to reach their individual excellence. Finding a co-pilot is the best remedy from feeling like a lonely product manager.

Product management might be a lonely job, but it doesn't have to be. There is a lot you can do to make your PM gig more bearable or even enjoyable.

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