As a product manager, you will be wrong. Probably a lot.

You will think you understand what a customer is trying to tell you, but you will misunderstand it.

You will think you get how a new technical feature works under the covers, but you will miss a key point.

You won’t be wrong all the time, but when you’re wrong, you need to get unwrong quickly. That’s why two of our most important skills are humility and empathy.

  • Humility so that you can accept being wrong without being crushed
  • Empathy so you can put aside your own feelings and beliefs to understand the feelings and beliefs – and needs – of others.

I talked to a customer today about a new feature they want, and I was tested in these areas. The mockups that I spent days working developing were not well received, although they precisely match the process as they described it to me. What they say they want sounds like unicorn tears, but that’s not their problem – it’s mine. I haven’t heard them right yet. I’m confident I will, but there may be several more uncomfortable demos before I’m not wrong anymore.

(Inspired by George A.’s “Number One Job Skill In 2020” post on LinkedIn – hint: the skill is empathy.)


About the author

Your host and author, Nils Davis, is a long-time product manager, consultant, trainer, and coach. He is the author of The Secret Product Manager Handbook, many blog posts, a series of video trainings on product management, and the occasional grilled pizza.

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  • I feel like this post, and some of the other recent ones, depict product managers as fearful, error-prone, uncertain, and often wrong. Seems like a negative message to put out about product management. Do you even like your job?

    • Matthias – great comment, and I can see how the recent few posts might give that impression! But no, I love my job – and part of what I like about it, and what provides the challenge, is exactly those things I’ve been talking about. It’s a creative job, so it’s bound to have those creative challenges. And it requires putting your own ideas, beliefs, and “wisdom” aside to understand what customers really need. I’m posting about these issues because I think too much of the product management writing out there makes us out to be perfect gods of understanding, striding over the product world with our intellectual power instantly solving product problems that lesser people – like customers and engineers – just would mess up. But we’re human, like anyone, subject to foibles and biases and creative blocks, and we need tools to help us get over those, and reminders about how to be more effective, like any human would.

      BTW, I think there’s a blog post here – thanks so much for bringing this up!

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