In-person Product Management is Dead. Long Live Product Management.

Is remote product management really that different from in-person product management?

Not really, and remote product management’s shortcomings can be made up for with ease with some small changes.

Now, obviously remote doesn’t have the same in-person collaboration and comradery that you may have if you are located with your teammates. You can’t read body language very well on zoom.

And you definitely can’t drop by someone’s desk to ask them a question.

The other side of the drop-in conversation coin

Now, on the other hand, other people can’t drop by your desk to ask you a question!

So you’re going to have fewer distractions and random people asking you to do things.

You’re going to be able to run releases in your pajamas.

You’re not going to have to commute to the office. If your engineering team is in one building and your business team is in another building, you’re not going to have to constantly go between the two.

You can basically stay put, get your work done, and do the things that you need to do as a product manager.

Time to get closer to customers

You’re also gonna find that you have more time to get closer to your customers. You are out outside of that bubble of the office where you’re thinking mostly about what’s in front of you, which is typically internal stakeholders.

Being remote is going to allow you to step back from that and spend more time with your customers. That’s a huge win for any PM.

Making up for the shortcomings of remote PM-ing

100% remote or bust

If you have a split team where some people are in the office and some people are remote, you’re gonna have a bad time. There will be sidebar conversations that you’re never looped in to. You’ll feel left out when part of your team does fun team building stuff without you. And you may feel “out of sight, out of mind”.

So if you’re joining a team as a remote PM, make sure you ask and see if your teammates are going to be all remote, all in-office or some kind of split between the two. Ideally, look for a 100% remote team.

In-person retreats

This may not be plausible at the moment, but once this whole pandemic lifts, a lot of people will probably stay remote and add in in-person retreats because in-person retreats help you get all of that energy and comradery that is developed in person that you can’t get remote.

And trust me, that energy carries for a while. So if you have a couple of in-person retreats or in-person meetings every year you’re going to have a lot of the advantages of being in person, as well as the advantages of being remote.

Utilize communication tools

  • Incorporating visual work through virtual whiteboards is going to be super helpful for the visual learners on your team. It may not fully make up for in-person brainstorming sessions, but it can get you 80% of the way there.
  • Also, learn how to write better. When you’re remote, a lot of stuff is written — slack messages, emails, specs, etc. Written communication is great for those nuanced conversations that you need to have.
  • For example, tricky stakeholder conversations are fantastic for written communication. You can write out your arguments and make sure you’re saying what you want in just the way you want.
  • Use synchronous video chat for remote happy hours and for culture building.

There are lot of communication tools out there. You can pick and choose which ones are going to be best for your situation.

The fundamentals are still the same

Product management doesn’t have to be done in person.

The fundamentals are the same. You still have to communicate with your customers. You still have to manage your stakeholders. You still have to make sure you have control of your roadmap and that you’re setting strategy right.

All those things are still happening as a remote PM. It’s just that you’re not doing it in person. And any shortcomings can be made up with full-remote teams, in-person retreats, and proper communication tools.

In the meantime, enjoy the remote PM life.

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