Posted by: Ivan lybbert | September 11, 2009

25 Words Or Less

I recently read a blog by Stewart Rogers where he gave a helpful book review on Made to Stick by Dan and Chip Heath.  The book sounds intriguing, and I intend to read it.  In his blog, there is a link to a Stickiness Aptitude Test that tickled my fancy (do people say that anymore?).  My favorite question?

“What gets you more excited?”

  • “A really sophisticated technology person asks a good question that makes it clear he understands what you’re doing” (Wrong Answer)
  • “Your mom asks a question that makes it clear she understands what you’re doing” (Right Answer)

Whose Mom is this?  While the prideful side of me wants to have a Mother that understands what I do for a living, the honest side of me knows that I probably haven’t followed the author’s practice of creating a sticky message that’s simplified enough for her to understand, or care enough to remember (Don’t worry Mom, I would never trade you!).

Gee Whiz.  This is a lesson I should have learned a long time ago.  I remember when I would explain to friends what Product Management was, their eyes would fall to half-mast, as if to say “is there a gas station between here and your point, because you’re killing me dude.” Of course, my Mom and Dad are the ultimate litmus test.  About once a year, they’ll say “Son, tell me what you do at work again?”  When I’m finished, if they say “Well…(pregnant pause)… we’re proud of you son”, I know I’ll get the same question next year.

I have a friend that said it differently.  He said, “If you can’t explain it in 25 words or less, then YOU don’t understand it”.  That phrase has stuck with me for years.  So I thought I would give it a whirl and try to explain what Product Manager’s do in twitter-like length.  Here are a couple of my attempts:

What is a Product Manager?

  • The individual who agrees to wear a bazooka target on their chest, and hopes to deliver the solution before someone yells, “Fire!”
  • The tour guide that navigates the market, understands its need, directs an organization to solve the problem, and then takes it to market.
  • The poor soul that has meetings all day, then works late into the evening where Letterman and poorly written emails await.
  • The most passionate person in the company that sees no hurdle too high in getting the right product to market.
  • The person who says “hold my feet to the fire, and I’ll solve it”, and has no authority to remove their tootsies from the heat.

As goofy as those sound, I bet most of us have had similar thoughts.  Then why blog about it?  I bet half of you reading this have bosses that have recently wondered if they could survive for a season without a product manager.  Here’s the painful truth, unless you’re in an organization where you make THE money (like a sales rep, consultant, etc.), then you’re considered an expense…(second pregnant pause)… “I feel a great disturbance in the Force, as if millions of voices suddenly cried out in terror”.  Thanks Obi-Wan, but it’s true.

I know we think that the sun rises and falls with our exceptional Power Point skills, but you’ve got to make sure people understand the value you bring.  Don’t get me wrong, I understand that your actions are much louder than words (MUCH louder), but you should still be ready for a quick response when asked “What do you do?”

Ok, your turn.  Tell me what a product manager is in 25 words or less.  Be short, but be honest!



  1. Serious: The person that identifies the market, understands the needs of that market and ensures that the product meets the needs of the target market.

    Humorous: Ignoring the wants of the few to satisfy the needs of the many (If you haven’t pissed someone off, you aren’t doing your job.)

  2. Isn’t that the truth. You cannot be a good product manager and make everyone happy :)

  3. The person that transforms market insights into actionable strategy to solve those problems, then communicates, cajoles, and coordinates to assure that the product succeeds.


    • Agreed! My favorite word in there is cajole. Such a simple word, yet speaks volumes to the “soft skills” required to be effective at our jobs. Sounds like another topic for a blog.

  4. Thanks Ivan! Whenever I read someone saying ‘product managers have no authority’ I hear ‘few product managers are given authority, but some create it.’ Some folks talk about that as the difference between management and leadership, but I find those terms to be too loaded with symbolic meaning, and it ends up clouding the issue.

    The shepherd who walks in front of the flock is leading. The sheep dog who runs around, brow-beating the sheep to stay in line is managing. The good shepherds keep the dogs around for emergencies, not for the everyday.

    The dog is given authority, the shepherd assumes/creates/embodies it.

    Trying to capture that in one or two words is what got me to ‘cajole’ – glad you like it, thanks for the feedback.


    • Scott,

      That’s a fabulous analogy. Too many days I feel like the sheep dog. I need to “get the flock out” and be the sheppard.

  5. […] in his post 25 Words Or Less, Ivan lybbert of the My Product Management Opinion blog writes about being able to explain what a […]

  6. We manage products!

    And yes, you should Made to Stick. Now.

  7. Product Manager’s listen to what customer’s think the problems are, figure out what the real problems and then works to solve them.

    Every time we release something that makes customers more efficient or something that makes money we’re adding value. I agree that it is critical to ensure people around you understand the value you’re adding.

    If we’re not adding value with every release we’re not doing our jobs.

    • Your comment about listening to the customer, and then figuring out the “real” problem is very interesting. And I agree. Many times customers express their own frustrations based upon the reality that they understand, within the constructs of their own reference. When a good Product Manager looks at the problem, they have a different frame of reference, primarily the future of the product. So we are better suited to understand how to fix their problem correctly, as long as we understand the real problem.

      Great insight…

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