football pitch

Being a (Product) Manager / Captain / Goalkeeper /

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Being a Product Manager is like being a football (soccer) manager,  team captain and player who plays in goal all at the same time.

Why do I say this? Let’s start with the easy one.

The Manager

Just like a football team manager you have direct contact with the owners and board level managers, you also have a team of managers (not directly reporting to you) beside you and a team of players.

Let’s start with your fellow managers.
  • The defensive coach of a football team is like the Operations director of a company, they provide the backbone of the team, HR, finance, customer services (CX) and culture (if you know anything about football you’ll know that the slightly off the wall characters play in defence).
  • Then you have a fitness coach that is like the QA Manager of a tech team, keeping everything tip top and ready to roll. Plus not allowing the stars on the field that are not fit or in our case are not tested well.
  • Also in the dugout with you in the Midfield coach, this is the Technical director in our case here, the engine of the product, often going from box to box helping the whole company out.
  • I’m not sure there’s a Winger manager in football, but let’s say there is. In our world this would be the Marketing manager, they are responsible for creating the leads (or the opportunities), crossing the ball into the box. 
  • And then we have the Sales manager, they are like the striker coach, taking the opportunities and converting them, scoring a goal or in our case converting a new paying customer.

There you go, there’s the whole management team in the dugout with us, let’s move on to being the captain of the team. 

The team captain

Why do I feel like we’re also the captain?

Maybe it’s my own personality, but CEOs, managers and team members look to the Product Manager for inspiration, they come to you with every issue, idea, bug, config trouble or just for a little fun, and many other things in my time as a PM.  We have to be the positive ones, we get many instructions from the board level to communicate to the team and the team looks to us to push things back up the company. We’re like the conduit for positivity and information.

All of the above may sound like I’m moaning, for the record I am not. I thrive on all of that, I love all of that. I’d say it’s a reason I love working in product.  What a great varied role it is, with no two days ever the same.

The goalkeeper

So, what about the goalkeeper? This is where I wish I could change something. 

If the strikers miss an opportunity, they get a “Don’t worry, another one is on it’s way, you’ll do better next time.

If the wingers cross too far or too near, they’ll get a stern look and complaint form the strikers and also congratulated for trying to cross it.

If the midfield fails to get from box to box, it’s okay, they’ve been working hard all game and that what the defence is there for… isn’t it?

And then there’s the defence, the fix everything group… almost, when they con’t or can’t fix it then there’s the goalkeeper.

Who’s there for the goalkeeper, if we miss something, there’s little back up, if we make a typo or miss a check, no one is checking for us.  Goalkeepers (PMs) make fantastic saves, they command the box, they encourage the team, they moan at the poor defenders and midfielders.  They generally have big hands and bigger personalities and are great at owning up to mistakes, well holding their BIG hands up.

Who sets out to be a poor goalkeeper anyhow? Oh yes, those people that are a little off the wall (more than defenders), those that can take it, those that love the challenge, those that have great humility, does that describe a Product Manager too?  I’ll leave that answer to you.

So if you’re reading this and thinking, I could do that.  What are you waiting for?  There are jobs out there for the brave and those full of ideas and those with courage.  Just do me one favour…   Learn to say “No”  it’s the most powerful answer you’ll have, use it wisely, use it sparingly, only when you really need to, and use it to help you prioritize. Saying “No, not now, I’ll check and get back to you with what we can do” will help you be an awesome Product manager. Oh and… good luck.


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