/ Product Management

The Talk ...

It is a familiar script. You start a new Product Management job, you get your arms around some of the issues, you begin to get the product in shape, and you rack up a success or two. You begin to feel comfortable, and things are headed in the right direction.

Then one afternoon, your boss grabs you and drags you into a conference room. You think to yourself "Oh shit, what did I do this time..." The conversation is predictable.

"We have this product (product line, point product, etc.) that isn't being well covered. I was talking with {insert name here - peer or 2 level up manager} and we think that you can pick this up, that is if you have bandwidth."

Elaine yada yada Ah yes, the "You're doing such a great job, we want to increase your responsibilities" talk. At every company the Dude has worked, this has been a conversation sometime within the first year. Always it is couched as recognition of doing a good job, and how it will be good for you (better visibility, more responsibility, path to bigger and better things, yada yada.

The first time this happens to you, it is exhilarating, your ego is fed, you are beginning to feel more valued. You say yes. Of course, you are getting the original product under control, and you are beginning to be more efficient in your work. Not quite routine, but manageable.

But the reality is that your workload has increased. Not doubled, as there will be some overlap, and efficiencies. But regardless, what is expected from you has gone up tremendously. If you are lucky, you were smart enough to ask for more money. But the odds are good that you didn't. And if you did, it is equally likely that it wasn't granted. Perhaps some vague promise for the future. Oh, there will be an excuse for no raise. Frozen budgets, no room, no ... well, you get the idea.

Still you have an option. You could say "no". In fact, your boss will probably say it is OK to decline. But it would be a mistake. Big mistake.

This is a trust scenario. You are being tested on your commitment, and your willingness to do what it takes. To get here, you have proven that you have attributes that the organization considers important (competence, strong work ethic, mad skills, dedication), and your boss and their boss see you as a solution to a "problem".

Today's wrinkle

Last Monday, "The Talk" happened (again) with the Dude. His boss, whom he really likes, grabbed him and we went into an unused conference room. At first, the thought was that The Dude's contract wouldn't be renewed. Being a contractor with three month at a time contracts, there is always the risk that it won't be extended. But the Dude wasn't really that worried about that discussion.

Wrinkled Lady The crux of the matter is that there is a not quite orphaned product that has been idling under another product manager. He really hasn't had the time to put towards it, and it has been on autopilot, losing momentum quarter after quarter.

A sweet-spot for the Dude. But the wrinkle. The Dude, being, uh hourly, really does have a bandwidth limit. He can't bill for over 40 hours a week, and while he could probably find 15% or 20% slack time, and better utilization, he can't quite do 2X the work.

What did the Dude say? Of course, he said yes. He will monitor his time commitment, trying to keep overages to a minimum, and look to optimize his schedule. He isn't ready to move on yet, and he sees plenty of upside to staying.

Summary

At every stop in the Dude's career, he has been asked to accept more and greater responsibility. At first it was a badge of honor, but as the career wore on, it became both predictable, and less than beneficial. Especially as the Dude is much happier as an individual contributor role, and after 20+ years, no longer desires a management track.


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