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The Cynical Abyss in Product Management: Bridging the Expectation-Reality Chasm

Closing the expectation-reality gap is key to fighting cynicism in product management. Collaboration and investment from PMs and organizations, along with templates for efficiency, can help bridge the divide.

The Cynical Abyss in Product Management: Bridging the Expectation-Reality Chasm

In the world of product management, cynicism can be a pervasive problem. As someone who has worked in the field for over six years, I have seen firsthand how it can eat away at a team's motivation and productivity. After some reflection, I believe that the root cause of cynicism in product management is a significant gap between expectations and reality.

The Idealistic Beginning: Embarking on a Journey with Best Practices

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When we first start our journey in product management, we are often bombarded with best practices and courses that teach us how to do things "the right way." We build up certain expectations of how we expect to work and how we expect to be treated, often with the goal of becoming an ideal version of ourselves in an ideal environment. However, the reality of many product management roles can be far from these expectations.

The Dissonance Strikes: Realizing the Grand Canyon Between Expectation and Reality in PM Roles

For example, as a product manager, you may be responsible for everything but have no real decision-making power. You may be expected to talk to users, but never actually get the chance to do so. These discrepancies between expectation and reality can quickly lead to frustration, disillusionment, and ultimately cynicism.

The Prestigious Pursuit: The Allure of Top-tier Product-led Companies and the Potential Pitfalls

The situation is further complicated by the fact that many senior product managers aim for roles at the most prestigious and product-led companies. While this may be the right path for some, it is not a feasible option for everyone. It can be demoralizing to feel like you are stuck in a role that doesn't match your expectations, with no clear path to a "better" company or position.

The Antidote to Disillusionment: Bridging the Gap Instead of Aiming for Distant Utopias

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So, what can we do to combat this pervasive sense of cynicism in product management? I believe that the key is to focus on reducing the gap between expectation and reality, rather than hoping for a better future that may never come. This can be accomplished from both sides: by adjusting our expectations to better match the reality of our current roles, and by working to improve the conditions of our current work to better align with our expectations.

Tactics for Transformation: PM Strategies for Aligned Expectations in Real-world Scenarios

Reducing this gap may seem daunting, but it is possible. As product managers, we can start by being more realistic about what our roles entail and what we can realistically achieve within our organizations. We can focus on building relationships with stakeholders and decision-makers, advocating for more user research, and finding creative solutions to the challenges we face.

Organizational Accountabilities: How Companies Can Foster Realistic and Achievable PM Goals

On the other hand, organizations can do their part to reduce the gap by providing clearer expectations for their product managers, empowering them to make decisions, and investing in resources that can help them succeed. For example, companies can provide more opportunities for user research and testing, or invest in training programs that help product managers develop new skills and knowledge.

The Collective Endeavor: Continuous Collaboration to Quash Industry-wide Cynicism

Ultimately, reducing the gap between expectation and reality is an ongoing process that requires continuous effort and collaboration from both product managers and their organizations. By working together, we can create a more positive and fulfilling environment for everyone involved in product management, and combat the pervasive cynicism that plagues our industry.

Want even more tactical tips? I've collected templates over the years, that help me daily. They help me onboard faster with teams, brainstorm more collaboratively and communicate outcomes in a crisper way.