Product managers make GREAT dinner guests

Now that I’ve started up a product management consultancy, I’ve found myself having to explain a bit more often what a product manager actually is.  There are, of course, eminently more articulate and relevant descriptions available of what being a product manager means.  But as it’s a Monday and we’re all in need of more frivolity in our lives, I’ve concluded that product managers would make excellent dinner guests.  Here’s why:

We’re polite and appreciative of anyone who helps us out (or cooks us dinner).

We’ll get on easily with the other guests in the interests of making the dinner party a success, even if they’re ‘characters’ (read: self-obsessed sociopaths). We’ll also make a point of making the quieter guests feel included and valued.

We’ll manage to find common areas of interest to grease the wheels of conversation, be curious about other guests’ specialisms and still be able to offer a considered opinion on topics we’re not as familiar with.

We’re more than willing to roll up our sleeves and help out in the kitchen if the host is running late, and when we do, we fit in seamlessly with their plans rather than trying to take over.

We’ll be appreciative of the meal, even if something caught fire unintentionally, and ensure the host is sufficiently sedated after the stress and hard work of preparing something they’ve never cooked before.

After the main event’s over, we’ll help with the clearing up.

We’ll also take the hint and avoid overstaying our welcome, and be likely to be invited back.

P.S. The ‘dinner party’ is a development project, the ‘host’ is the development team, the ‘other guests’ are stakeholders.

My laboured analogy does however break down somewhat because my friends rarely let me dictate the menu when they invite me round for dinner. But you’d be far too polite to point that out, right?

Update: for a slightly more serious take on what it means to be a product manager, take a look at the follow-on post.

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5 thoughts on “Product managers make GREAT dinner guests

  1. Pingback: What to expect from a product manager | I Manage Products

  2. Funny you should mention this. I worked my way through college (and some time after) as a professional chef.

    I learned a lot about preparation, planning, workflow optimization, multitasking, safety, management of staff, and other very important lessons that to this day are useful (if not directly applicable).

    It even landed me a job later (as my hiring manager and soon to be boss HAD to meet the person with the chutzpah to put “Chef” in his experience on a resume.)

    • I couldn’t agree more – someone who has demonstrated the ability to apply him or herself to multiple disciplines (and do well in each) will probably have the right underlying characteristics that make a good product manager. It’s not all they need, but certainly a good indicator. I also like the differing perspective that someone who has worked outside of tech can offer.

      I once worked for someone who previous careers had included selling bracelets at Glastonbury and being an extra in one of the Rambo films. Can’t say whether that actually helped that person be a better product manager, but it was quite fun to find out…

  3. Really fun article Jock, and I actually think you’re spot on. The qualities of a good, nay even great Product Manager are not things that have been trained into her or him by their most recent employer, or learned through an remote learning course. Those things most certainly can help in the refining process of a Product Manager’s knowledge and skills, but they don’t provide the foundational aspects of what makes for a great dinner guest. The things that you’ve described like curiosity, listening, engaging, encouraging, helping / supporting, appreciation and thoroughness are traits that lie at the intersection of natural talents and years spent in practice of these characteristics. However, it always makes for somewhat of an odd (and interesting) moment when someone asks what I think are the most important characteristics of a Product Manager and I say it’s things like curiosity, listening and eagerness for learning!

    • Absolutely, while it’s sometimes difficult to pin down what a product manager actually is (see also this follow-up article: http://wp.me/p1otXW-w6), having the right mindset, values and emotional intelligence is core.

      Add in the necessary professional competence and ability to assimilate and derive insight from vast swathes of information, and that person is well on the way to becoming a quality product manager.

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