It’s always the quiet ones you have to watch out for
There is a perception within product management that product manager = extrovert. In reality, product managers are as nuanced, complex and difficult to define as the craft they represent
“Everyone shines, given the right lighting.”
― Susan Cain, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking
Product management isn’t uniform. Neither are product managers
When I first started in product management the phrase I heard the most was “it depends”. What does a typical discovery look like? It depends. What framework should I use to tackle this problem? It depends. What course should I go on, or qualification should I try to acquire? It depends. It drove me mad.
Of course, over time I’ve come to embrace this mindset. Every product/project/team/client is different, and therefore the path to achieving the best outcomes and delivering real user value is also different.
But what about us as product managers? What does the archetypal rockstar product manager look like?
Guess what? It depends.
As product managers, we’re at the heart of everything. We’re jack of all trades, and master of most of them. We’re equally comfortable setting the vision and the strategy as we are fine tuning a user story, as we are taking our clients on the journey with us.
It follows naturally, then, that we’d all be extroverts - right? Expressive, highly sociable and thriving on being the centre of attention.
Well, not always. During a recent gathering of our Product Practice, we assessed ourselves using the Myers-Briggs personality types and found that 7 out of the 12 product managers in attendance that day identified as either INTJ, INFJ or ISFJ. Which is to say, more than half of us identified as introverts. But let’s break down some of the other letters in those initialisms for a moment:
Thinking - capable of working through complex theoretical and abstract problems, and knowing when to apply them to real life situations
Intuitive (no, I don’t know why this is an N either) - can see patterns and possibilities
Feeling - capable of prioritising people and emotions
Sensing - sensitive to the needs and feelings of others
Judging - a preference for structure and order
When viewed in this light, it certainly doesn’t seem counterintuitive that a subsection of our Product Practice might exhibit all of the above traits. Similarly, it follows that the introverts amongst us might perform well when given the time and headspace to bring these characteristics to the fore in order to deliver the best possible value for our users, for the businesses we work with and for our teams.
So what’s the take away?
As leaders, understanding the way people operate and what drives them can help us unlock the potential in people that we may not have considered.
We’re all comfortable with the fact that it’s restrictive to assume one approach, model or framework is the silver bullet to tackling a thorny product issue or capitalising on a high value opportunity. In the same vein, we should guard against assuming that all product managers are comfortable in the limelight and excel when thinking on their feet. It’s important to also create space to give people time to think, listen and plan.
Consider instilling the following practices to ensure that the introverted product managers in your organisation have the opportunity to work in the way which comes naturally to them (or, if you’re the product manager in question, encourage these practices within your team to ensure that you are working in an environment which is compatible with your natural working style):
Wherever possible, keep the number of attendees in your meetings to a minimum. This is good practice in general, but it especially helps introverts feel comfortable in voicing their opinions. The Product Trio is a great example of where product managers can do brilliant work in a smaller and more focused team environment.
Share meeting agendas in advance. This will give all introverts in the team time to formulate their thoughts prior to the meeting, but it also allows the introverted product manager to define the desired outcomes of the meeting in their own time.
Create a range of different spaces for communication. Mixing mediums such as video conference, instant messaging, face to face meetings (remember those!) and email can help to ensure that all personality types have their space to shine.
In so doing, you will be tapping into the very heart of what makes people tick and allowing them to bring their best and most authentic selves to their work and to their teams.
Finding Product Breaks valuable? Please consider sharing it with friends - or subscribe if you haven’t already