I often find myself being asked by junior product managers/product owners “What is the hardest part of the job?” My initial sarcastic response is always the same, getting people to understand the difference between a project manager and a product manager! However when it boils down to it the single hardest part of the job is the ability to say No. While saying no itself is a pretty easy and straightforward task it’s really the ability to justify why you’re saying now as well as having the confidence to say no to a request regardless of the seniority of the person asking. A Product Manager’s number 1 responsibility is to protect the product roadmap. This is done through careful prioritization. The product manager is the gatekeeper of the roadmap and should be able to explain in detail the business case for each item on the roadmap and why the roadmap is prioritized in the current order. Sure when the ole executive drive-by happens and you get a request to drop everything and shift focus it’s very easy to bow to the job title and just agree to it. The true importance of the product manager is to be able to push back on those requests, not necessarily just become a walking “no”, but be able to quickly have a discussion around the benefits associated with the current priority order and how the new request fits into those priorities. It’s also a critical task to explain the impacts of shifting priorities. It’s easy enough to go back to your dev team and explain the new feature to be worked on but that comes at a cost of not being able to deliver the current in-flight work, as well as a slow ramp up to get the new feature moving.
Being able to protect your backlog, explain the prioritization of your roadmap, and have the confidence to have a conversation with anyone at any level about the benefit of the priority order is far and away, in my opinion, the most challenging part of being a product manager