Product management requires consistent discipline. So much so that I believe it should be a key consideration for anyone thinking about getting into the profession, and for assessing anyone currently in it. Therein lies a big part of the challenge of product management.

Being disciplined is hard. Most people aren’t. They aren’t in their personal lives and it carries over to their professional life too. Yet, product management requires an unwavering commitment to being disciplined for a product to reach its potential.

Discipline doesn’t have to equal no fun and enjoyment for product managers. In fact, it means the opposite. The most disciplined product managers enjoy the work, their collaboration with team members, and a product’s evolution far more than those who are undisciplined. Being a disciplined product manager sets the stage for joy and fulfillment from the work. Being undisciplined means a lot of anxiety and thrashing.

Product managers who are disciplined are grounded in the mission to work in the best interest of the product and its users. A mission without discipline in the execution of it leaves the process and outcomes to chance. Great product managers leave as little to chance as possible. Discipline doesn’t care what mood you are in, what the conditions are, or what challenges are in front of you. Discipline only cares that you know and complete what needs to be done in alignment with the mission.

It is a lot of pressure for product managers to execute with relentless discipline, and for them to expect the same of their teams. This is one of the most surprising aspects of product management for people new to the craft, and I believe it’s a major differentiation between product management and project management. The differences between project and product management discipline are significant. Project management is about oversight, tracking, and forecasting. All important in their own right, but it’s not about ownership of outcomes. It probably should be, but by in large it isn’t. Therefore, project management doesn’t require the same level and depth of discipline as product management. Project managers adhere to some processes that do require some discipline, but they really only need a small amount of discipline to do this. Once a project manager has their tracking and reporting process in place, it is mostly a data gathering and input exercise. Product managers, on the other hand, own the outcomes of their team’s work and their products. Owning outcomes requires discipline across all of the people and processes to produce the outcomes. Project management is akin to a someone reporting on a sporting event, while product management is like coaching one of the teams playing.

Owning the outcomes means product managers have to be disciplined around all aspects of producing the desired outcomes for a product, its users, and the company. Product managers have an obligation to be disciplined across the entire spectrum of what impacts and contributes to a product. This is a huge responsibility and heavy burden. Product managers have to be disciplined when team members aren’t. Product managers have to follow and enforce the process when others don’t. Product managers have to work in the best interest of a product and its users when others aren’t.

Being relentlessly and consistently disciplined requires product managers to deal with challenges head on. Product managers don’t have the luxury to avoid or procrastinate problems. Product managers can’t avoid confrontation and hope that problems will somehow magically disappear or take care of themselves. Product managers also can’t assume that someone else will resolve a problem. Product managers own the outcomes, and they own the problems associated with getting to the outcomes.

Shouldn’t everyone on a product team be disciplined? Yes, of course. But, although we would like to believe that everyone on a product team should, and does, take ownership of a product’s outcomes, that rarely happens. As a result, product managers have to hold team members accountable. Jira cards don’t get moved properly by someone with a lack of discipline. A product manager has to reinforce the process and associated discipline. When stories are lackluster and aren’t as detailed as they should, the product manager doesn’t let it slide. If user feedback is discounted because the user doesn’t know what they really want, the product manager defends the perspective of the user. The layers of discipline required by a product manager are too numerous to attempt to reference them all. The entire effort to create and evolve a product is a test of discipline for product managers.

There are no desired outcomes in life or in business worth attaining that don’t require some level of sacrifice and discipline. People who choose to be product managers have to be aware that they must make a conscious decision to operate in a disciplined manner, irrespective of the forces and desires not to. Product managers who understand this, and embrace this, will not only perform better and be more professionally fulfilled, but they will also lead the creation of the best products.

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