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What's Your Intention?
Answer the most important questions behind becoming successful PMs
Over the last several years, I’ve had the pleasure to talk with and help up-and-coming product managers by sharing my own experience and answering many questions. To reflect, most of the questions we discussed were around the “what” and the “how”.
What - What is the role of a product manager? What are different types of product managers? What is product sense interview all about? What was your own background, and what does it take to break into product? etc.
How - How to transition into product from engineering/design/etc.? How do you prepare for interviews? How to stand out from the crowd? How do you succeed as an introvert in product management? etc.
All of these are important questions, and what kept us up at night at least a some part of our journeys. Myself definitely included.
The more I talked to folks, the more I realized, however, some, arguably more important questions are often missing or overlooked. And these are the questions I think should be discussed first and foremost. They’re also ones I wish I started from myself many years before deciding to go on the (long) transition journey.
🔑 Why do you want to be a (successful) product manager?
📈 Do you want the outcome or the process?
In this post, let me dive into these questions with you!
Sometimes when I asked “why do you want to be a product manager?”, the person gave me the puzzled look as if I asked “why do you want to breath?”
I understand where that look might come from. Doesn’t everyone want to be a product manager in tech? A product manager leads, doesn’t need to code, gets paid well, and has a “manager” in the title. Why wouldn’t you want to be a product manager?
If this is your “why” at this point, it is nothing wrong. Because let me tell you, that was how I learned about and got interested in product management in the first place, many years ago. All of these are true, but it didn’t take me long to realize there was much more, both on the bright side and the dark side of product management. And when it comes to the dark side, it would take a deeper reason, or a more meaningful intention for us to persist through the challenges and stay passionate, which is in turn the only way that leads to being successful in the transition and in the job itself.
What’s my intention? I shared a little about what I liked about product management in an earlier post. But at an even higher level:
I discovered that I’m highly passionate about empowering people with my skills and experiences. Whatever I do and wherever I am, in life. I get the true pleasure by seeing how I enabled others to succeed in what they do, more so than how I succeed on my own (in the conventional sense). A product manager enables and empowers the team to be successful. This is also why I started this blog and why I enjoy mentoring and coaching.
I fundamentally believe that technology will change humanity for the better, if we do it right. A product manager connects technology to people problems, and carries the responsibility of bringing the positive impact to whoever is your target audience. Even though this was not the reason why I started studying in computer science (I stumbled into it), it was why I stayed in computer science study all the way through graduate school.
Of course, product management is not the only career that enables you to do either of the above. A full time teacher or instructor empowers people even more. A software engineer plays an even more critical role in bringing the right technology to the world. For me, it does connect well to my own passion and my life intention. And yes, it does pay the bills.
What’s your own intention behind wanting to be and succeed in product management, and how do you figure it out if you haven’t? I’m suggesting in simple two steps:
Forget about product management for a second. Take a step back, and think about: What do you ultimately want to achieve in life? What do you always find joy in doing? What are your true passions?
Answer for yourself: How does product management connects to these? Is it necessarily the best role that sits at the intersection between your desire, passion, and what you’re good at?
Most likely, the outcome would be that you’re more clear than ever about the why behind your pursuit in product management, which is going to be the invaluable fuel to your long journey ahead.
📈 Outcome or Process?
I’m sure you’ve heard a lot:
“Success is a journey, not a destination”
All of us human are goal driven. We’re more easily motivated by a specific goal or destination we define, and think we’ll be happy when we get there. We ARE usually happy when we get there, but what then? You set the next goals, and you keep going. Or if you don’t, you become less motivated, and you might start falling onto the wrong directions.
When we take a breather and look back on a broader time horizon, we realize the specific goals, destinations, or defined “outcomes” are really just ways to keep us going in a continuous journey (which is what we call “life”). These interim goals, as well as whether and how you accomplished them, collectively defined who you are today. Likewise, the goals you will set and whether/how you will accomplish will define who you will be in the future.
Now back onto product management. Have you thought about: When you said you want to be a (successful) product manager, do you want just the outcome (e.g. finally landing a product manager role in your dream company), or do you really want the process (e.g. of all the hard work to get you there as well as to stay successful in that role?)’
Some might argue: aren’t they the same thing? If I want the outcome, I need to go through the process. The differences might be nuanced, in that:
With process, you don’t stop just because you’ve gotten there. You keep up the effort (or put in even more effort) to not fall off track.
With process, you should feel content and happy even before you get there, because you’re already on the path toward there. You’re already living the journey you desired.
This is also a reminder that if you really want to be a successful product manager (by your own definition and measures), you will probably want to make sure you indeed fall in love with the whole process, not just one specific outcome. The process is not just a several months interview prep effort. It’s the ongoing effort throughout your career to stay top of your game (including sometimes going back to the job market to interview if needed even AFTER you’ve landed your dream role at a dream company).
Let me share a few non-PM examples:
Want to have ripped body with six packs? It’s the lifestyle for years that get you there and keep you there
Want to get to financial independence and retire earlier (FIRE)? It’s not only your earnings in paycheck but more importantly your ongoing financial awareness and habits that get you there and keep you there
Want to be ultimately enlightened like Dalai Lama? Have you practiced routine meditation, moment-by-moment mindfulness, and daily appreciation, and most importantly be ready to do it the rest of your life?
So ask yourself again: Do you want just the outcome, or do you really want the whole process?
I know this is not your typical get into product management guide. I know this gets a bit philosophical. I believe it’s always good to occasionally lift our heads out of the weeds and see the bigger picture. Think about the why, where we’re headed in life, and our true intention.
And go heads down again in full throttle with a clarity smile on our face. 😊