We Are All Product Managers. You Are The Product.

Karthik Lakshminarayanan
5 min readFeb 6, 2021

I am a Product Manager by profession, and a coach by passion. In solving problems in both of these areas, I started to notice common patterns.

As part of my job as a product manager, I build software products. I define the product and markets to serve, craft the product specifications, work with other stakeholders like engineers, project managers and user experience professionals to build the products that my customers love.

For the people I coach, their ultimate goal is getting help to define, plan and navigate their career for outstanding success. In your career journey, I serve as the navigation system. You are the star player. I am the coach.

The same techniques I have learnt to build great products, can be used to help people and to help you build the best version of you for your career.

How? Let me compare and contrast with an example.

Software products help fill a gap (e.g. Netflix helps fill the user’s entertainment needs) and charge a price for that fair exchange of value (e.g. Netflix subscription plans). Netflix’s ability to acquire & retain a customer depends on the strength of their differentiation (e.g. their recommendation engine, and having the broadest content). The price that they get paid (e.g. which Netflix plans a subscriber signs up for) is dependent on the customer’s perception of the value delivered by Netflix.

Netflix stays relevant by reinventing itself many, many times — adapting to changes. Changes are both intrinsic or extrinsic. Examples of intrinsic changes include leadership churn in their organization, team culture or managing their dependencies like content producers. Extrinsic factors can be changes in the user’s needs, technology trends, competitor moves and so on. For example, Netflix was able to adjust to the shift from shipping DVDs to streaming and keeps growing at a robust clip.

The epiphany is that we are all product managers, managing the product of YOU.

Photo by Ben Robbins on Unsplash

Think about it. You fill a customer need (your employer is your customer, and the job description is the need you fill) and you get paid for that value as perceived by your customer (your organization). The value is typically derived from your performance reviews. To get the best performance reviews and rewards, you have to master skills that help you better manage yourself and the factors that influence your success (e.g. your manager, your stakeholders or your projects). For the product of you to stand out, you need to be differentiated over the many others that work with you.

Likening our careers to a market product has a distinct disadvantage — namely, does that mean my teammates are competitors to vanquish? Not at all. Some markets, for a given category, are not a zero sum game (for example, a customer may subscribe to both Netflix and Disney+) and some are (e.g. if I am in the market for a car, I am picking only one). I am no fan of having people on the same team compete with each other. I believe there is a way for your value to shine and put you on an accelerated career path, and be a great team player. We can be the wise owl and be successful or we can be a wily fox. The choice is ours. There is always a choice. There is a way to preserve your integrity and values and still be very successful in your career.

To be successful at work, we should all focus on three things

  1. You — Become the best version of yourself. Some skills are intrinsic — only you can see the difference and it is like strengthening your core to have a strong back. To be successful, you have to master skills, including sharpening strengths you already have and developing techniques to overcome “weaknesses”.
  2. Others — Stakeholder Advocacy & Working with the team. No person is an island — you are connected to others and constantly dependent on the actions of others for your own success. I love the While you don’t directly control how others think or behave, you can both influence them as well as better control any impact their behaviors have on your life. These are the skills you need to manage others.
  3. Celebrate & Pay It Forward. As someone said “The meaning of life is to find your gift. The Work of Life is to develop it. The purpose of life is to give it away.” Purpose is very broad and usually applies a lot more to your personal rather than professional life. We can all do our bit to pay it forward at work. For me, it is writing this blog, and coaching others. For you, it might be teaching a class or changing something about your corporate culture, or sponsoring an initiative. Whatever it is, I hope you take the time to stay committed to paying it forward and helping others.

To tie it all back together, consider reading this blog to navigate your career and plan your work life. I use the same techniques I used to build great products, to build a great version of You for the workplace. I hope you find the articles below helpful, as you design your career journey!

You. Become the best version of yourself

Others. Stakeholder Advocacy & Working with the team

Celebrate and Pay It Forward

  • How do you celebrate your success? How do you intend to give back and help others succeed?

Do you agree? What do you think? Please feel free to leave a comment or email me at karthik at karthikln dot com

Originally published at https://www.karthikln.com on February 6, 2021.

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Karthik Lakshminarayanan

Product Executive, focused on turning great products into great businesses. Current: Google. Previous: VMware, AppSense and Microsoft. All views are my own.