Byldd exists to help non-technical founders build software products and businesses. Our goal is to help our partners go to market with products that can generate recurring revenue, can become profitable and that users keep coming back to. As a company, this puts us in a unique position. We're not just some development agency that executes on clearly defined objectives or clears backlog tickets for larger firms. Our success is tied to the success of our partners. Therefore, we must ensure that the success of project managers is tied to the success of the projects they manage.

We must not only execute the project effectively but also guide owners towards implementing scalable architecture, incorporating product best practices and focusing on good user experiences.  

With this in mind, I've adapted Ben Horowitz's Good Product Manager / Bad Product Manager for our context. Overall, there are 4 critical areas in which a PM needs to display world class skill. These are Ownership, Communication, Execution and Focus. Let's go through what these things mean, one by one.

Ownership

A good project manager is the CEO of the project.

  • They take full responsibility of their project and measure themselves in terms of the project's success.
  • They are responsible for everything that does and does not happen on their project.
  • They know the context of the project extremely well and they take responsibility for delivering and executing a winning plan.

A bad product manager makes excuses.

  • They depend on external direction for decisions.
  • They blame team members or other departments for shortcomings.

Just as a CEO doesn't make excuses or assign blame, a PM should not either.

Communication

Good project managers communicate very effectively.

  • They ask themselves - What do I know? Who needs to know it? Have I told them? - and are proactive (instead of reactive) in their communication.
  • They clearly define the scope, schedule and budget of their projects. They notice deviations, address them and, if necessary, rectify them.
  • They err on the side of clarity vs explaining the obvious.
  • They work to ensure that every angle and assumption of the project is thought through and tested.

Bad managers complain that they spend all day answering questions.

  • They don't bother explaining the obvious.
  • They let their team make assumptions and decisions based on those assumptions.

Execution

Good project managers execute effectively. They focus on high-leverage activities and ensure that their teams can operate smoothly. Paraphrasing Andrew Grove, high-leverage activities are activities that generate a disproportionately high level of output. For example, setting clear objectives for the team.  

  • They protect engineers from distractions, excessive meetings and business decisions.
  • They issue clear instructions and set clear goals for their team members.
  • They ensure that they first focus on blocking issues and high-leverage activities.
  • They do the hard work of thinking through problems so that their team members can focus on executing smoothly.
  • They maintain a smart sense of urgency.

Bad project managers don't spend the effort to think through the project and as a result are always reacting to situations.

  • They are always putting out fires, solving problems on the fly and risk getting overwhelmed.
  • They let engineers think through problems and make business decisions. This is a bad idea - engineers don't have the full context and hence make suboptimal decisions leading to uncontrolled technical debt.
  • Their lack of foresight forces rushed decision making which turns into a spiral.

Focus

Good project managers focus on the value their product will bring to the market.

  • Their focus is directly on revenue and customers. They remain lean for the benefit of the entrepreneur and don't waste budget on frivolous features.
  • Indirectly, their focus is on user experience and product quality.
  • They help entrepreneurs identify and test the critical assumptions.
  • They send their status updates on time because they are disciplined.

Bad product managers focus on the number of features and bells and whistles.

  • They count features without thinking of impact.
  • They forget to send status updates because they don't value discipline.