Shaun Russell Rocks SaaS Product Management Like It’s 1999
A few weeks ago I received a mailing from, I think, the BPMA (Boston Product Management Association) whose main headline was a link to a video entitled Things Nobody Told Me About Being a Product Manager given by a nice looking fellow of the name Shaun Russell, who, judging by his accent, is of British extraction and is currently a PM at an online website called the Outfittery.
The website’s SaaS business model is based around consulting with an online stylist who periodically sends you clothing they’ve picked out for you best on your preferences and tastes. You try on what they send and only keep what you like. Everything you reject can be sent back to the company free of charge. It’s an intriguing model and the clothing looks quite stylish. I suggest you take a look. (The site is British based and all numbers are in pounds. I’m not sure the free shipping option applies to international sales.)
The stream runs about 16 minutes and when it was over, I felt like I’d been whisked back in time to 1986, the year I became product manager of WordStar 2000 and then WordStar (wherein lies a tale you can read about in my book, In Search of Stupidity: Over 20 Years of High-Tech Marketing Disasters). In the late 80s, I would have found Russell’s lecture leading edge and fascinating. By 1999, it had become industry orthodoxy. Today, it’s crustier than a five-inch floppy disk.
During the presentation, Russell tells us that:
- A PM’s job is “intangible.” (IOW, you can’t explain to your wife and friends what you do.)
- You float around a lot in space (actually, by that he means you spend a lot of time bouncing between developers, who tend to look down on PMs but like them better than they do sales people, sales people who don’t care what you do, and upper management, who know what you do because they hired you to do it, are sure you don’t do it as well as they did, and are confident that if you’re laid off the company will survive. Collectively, these people are sometimes known as “stakeholders”).
- The job is uncertain. (This is quite true. If your product does poorly in the market, the stake holders will stab your job in
the heart, where it will rapidly go “poof” in the harsh glare of financial failure.)
- You are supposed to know “less” than all the other people you work with. (This is another way of saying, “Jack of all trades, master of none,” a syndrome traditionally associated with product managers.)
- Your work is never done. (Well, it can be. If your product’s sales are poor, you’ll be fired. I said that already, didn’t I.)
- Product managers have a lot responsibility but no authority. (I first heard this observation sometime in the mid-80s and believe a Tears for Fears song was playing in the background at the time. Somehow, the group’s name seemed apropos to what I was learning.)
- PMs need a “superpower.” (This is a new observation and I spent a few minutes imagining what superpower I could have used most in my past stints as a PM. Super Begging, Super Pleading, and Supersonic Whining initially came to mind.)