The Day I Became a Happy Product Manager

product manager scrolling on tablet

It was a big month. I was leading product for a Los Angeles-based SaaS company in the HR space. Our team had released five big new features and was starting to see engagement with the product. We armed our sales team with the features they needed to close some of the biggest deals we had seen all year.

The company was on a roll. Revenue numbers were through the roof — what else could one hope for?

And yet it felt like something was missing. I couldn’t quite place it. Heads down on day-to-day execution, I had lost touch with why I was doing my job. I was buried in the technical details of my product and jumping from meeting to meeting. This is not a bad thing — any product manager will tell you that each day can be a roller coaster.

The problem? I was missing the bigger picture. Every action that I took each day had become a means to its own end. And I got so busy doing the work that I didn’t feel a sense of mission anymore.

Luckily that feeling changed for the better. I was reminded why my work mattered when I got this email from a customer:

“Thank you for an amazing product. It has enabled us to completely revamp our internal processes for recognizing employee achievements and our team has been raving about it. We can’t wait to see what comes out next!”

I needed that email. It made me proud of my effort and what the team accomplished. We had built a product that customers wanted and needed — a huge end goal in itself. But more important, our product helped our customers accomplish something meaningful to them. This is a much harder goal to achieve. And when I realized that we had hit it, I was a happy product manager.

With that tangible sense of purpose, I gained:

Understanding how our product improved customers’ lives helped me become even more connected — to our customers, team, and product. It made me realize that my frustration was a result of feeling disconnected. This experience taught me that being busy each day was no excuse for forgetting why we all showed up — to build a meaningful product for customers we cared about with a team that was invested in each other’s success.

Knowing that my work had true value and was solving real problems gave me the confidence to lead with conviction. Being disconnected often led to second-guessing my decisions — even when I believed they were the right ones. It is always good to gut-check your choices, since doing so might reveal a better way. But when you check for blind spots and are assured you are leading down the right path, that is the time to watch your work speak for itself.

Understanding and being able to articulate the value we brought to customers gave me credibility with internal teams. I had a specific use case and testimonial that showed what we aimed to achieve in market. This proof that our product was on the right track gave the rest of my team the same confidence I had.

Every product manager makes tough decisions daily. And those decisions are not always easy or popular. But one customer email was all it took for me to see that every tough decision I had made enabled us to build a helpful product.

That customer email was what I needed: Creating a product that improves people’s lives is proof that my work has higher purpose. That lesson made me a happy product manager.

What’s the moment that made you a happy product manager?

About Ron and Aha!

Ron is a product guy. He is the VP of Product Management at Aha! — the world’s #1 roadmap software. He previously founded and sold his own company and has been on the founding team of multiple venture-backed companies.

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  1. Frank J.

    Hi Ron, great post. I’m principal product owner for a line of iOS medical apps. Here’s the email that made me a happy product manager, and has pushed me to continue to innovate and serve customers:

    Date: July 22, 2015 at 3:41:28 PM PDT
    To: “”

    Thank you for developing Dexteria. I am 68 and had quite a severe stroke about 2 years ago, losing my balance, co-ordination and most of my speech. I am left-handed and the stroke was on my left side which meant I could not write. I am also a pianist and lost most of my left-hand technique. Dexteria has helped me a lot in a short time with both writing and piano playing as well as general dexterity. Thank you so much and I will use it to improve even more.

    Ross B*****


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