Breeds of product managers

By Yue Zhao


Lively, passionate, driven, hard-working mini-CEOs, great product managers share one trait in common: they are in love with their product. They talk about it to anyone they can find, and dream about it at night. They always know three things they love about it, and three things they would change. But, with different organizations and business models, different personalities shine. Here are a few extremes. Where do you see yourself?

A. The do-it-all
This product manager is typically found at a very early stage start-up, with less than 20 people. He/she does everything—from writing code to designing the layout to dealing with lawyers to helping the CEO on developing a strategy and vision. Sometime the PM also gets coffee, or mans the publicity table at SXSW. This person works hard, and fast, and is a jack of all trades. He/she loves creating structure from no structure, and putting things together. In exchange, this PM dislikes authority and process, and functions best in small, close-knit teams. There’s little or no documentation, and everything, from the product roadmap to which customer like what coffee, is in his/her head.

B. The technical PM
This product manager is a software engineer by training, and grew up among the nerds. He/she loves to build and create. Typically found with very technical focused startups that require a deep understanding of the technical components, these PMs have the respect of the fellow engineers and are considered “one of them”. Technical PMs will get their hands dirty to solve any technical issues, but may hit a limit quickly on business issues. More subscribe to the “build it and they will come” philosophy, and fewer take business cases, ROI, or even customer inputs too seriously. For a business whose competitive differentiation is technical elegance, the technical PM is a perfect fit.

C. The metrics guy
This product manager lives and dies by the metrics, and makes all decisions by the hypothesis driven lean method. Test. Test. Test. Every feature, functionality, design change is backed with solid analytics. There’s no place for intuition here, just numbers. Typically found is later stage companies where numbers may speak louder than vision, these PM thrive in environments where there’s enough resources to conduct the tests, and solid numbers to chase. Amazon is a great example—with a proven business model, it becomes about inventory turns, profit margins, and YOY growth. While metrics are important for any company, for these PMs, it is the golden rule of thumb, and these numbers are hard to get early.

D. The crowd-pleaser
This product manager is group negotiator, and is brilliant at making others feel heard, then cutting and prioritizing based on intuitive business sense. Everyone at the company loves contributing ideas to his/her product, and he/she makes sure that everyone is heard. A strong extrovert, group brainstorming sessions and customer focus groups fill the day. This type of product manager typically does not have a technical background, and is extremely valuable at organizations with a more consumer brand focus or business model driven value propositions.  

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