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Ask HN: Changing jobs as PM either gets fired or reassigned, what’s going wrong?
6 points by simonhfrost 4 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 8 comments
Two days I was told yet again the project I’m working on will be reassigned a different product manager (PM). After moving to a European country four years ago, that now makes four out of four positions I’ve held where the PM has been swapped out due to the project ‘not going to plan’. I started off working at startups but have since switched to freelancing and also to bigger clients, so it seems like this issue is prevalent in all sorts of companies.

I understand being a PM is an extremely difficult job, but why does it seem so hard to get a project running in the right direction? I’m usually in a team of highly skilled and capable people, but the same issues seem to pop up: misunderstanding requirements, unknown feature prioritisation, and timeline communication (the unrealistic deadline was inevitably missed). I often find myself under-utilised, not knowing what to build, or what the motive is.

Can anyone offer advice on how to improve or avoid this phenomenon? I’m starting to think the only solution is to work with smaller clients (virtually no management), or join the ranks of the big tech companies (Google, Amazon, …), where they at least seem to be doing something right.

Is this all happening within the same company? If so, then its a management/communication issue.

Otherwise, either you need to think about what the common denominator is. Is it something you are not catching when interviewing at companies? Perhaps founders that don't know what they are doing, and hope that the PM will figure it out? Or a collection of engineers who aren't capable of delivering on requests. However, if there is a manager or team lead then this is the manager at fault for not catching the lack in resources or the risk of overshooting deadlines.

Another thing that may be the cause: If this is all occurring in the same country, it could be a cultural issue. It may be that the work culture within the country isn't conducive to startup success. For example, if its a work culture that has a heavily top down management culture or hierarchical respect expectations, it could be that PM's who are generally supposed to report any risk to delayed timelines or push back due to lack of resources, do not feel at liberty to do so, which then causes mismanaged expectations between PM's and upper management. A Top down culture could also result in directives coming from the top without consultation with those down the chain as to whether there are any risks.

It has been occurring in (4) different companies.

It's interesting you mentioned it potentially being a cultural issue as I had a similar conversation with a coworker recently. I'm considering taking a project in a nearby city to see if that makes any difference.

It has been my experience that most management are not technical enough. They are often business oriented. As such when technical issues occur, they cannot push the techies to fix it, not explain to upper management what is wrong.

Most techies do not have enough business understanding to see where the real goal is. We also enjoy working out problems to the extreme degree. We are often to close to the trees to see the forest. Typically this results in too much time spent arguing tabs verses (those nasty) spaces. Techies often waste a lot of time on analysis paralysis.

Also most techies, especially if they are good, have no desire to become managers.

Cure: Goals and accountability. If things are not going as planned have the engineers write up Monthly / weekly / daily goals, and provide on the same timely basis the results. Do not schedule weekly meetings. At some point they will bitch they are spending all of their time writing up this crap (I would bitch the loudest). Consider having the team lead provide for each person their daily / weekly goals.

If I understand your first paragraphs correctly, you're stating that finding a manager that has the correct balance of business and technical skills is rare to find (I have also had a PM with great technical skills but lacked business perspective). Maybe I should be spending more time in the interview process trying to analyse this balance.

Regarding your proposed cure, a lot of the solutions I try to push involve increased communication (generally via utilising agile meetings, and documenting decisions via email and docs). Goals and accountability are tightly tied to this, as this becomes more significant when communication is clearer. Perhaps I will focus on this more in future projects.

You don't give us much to help you out. At a high-level, if you keep being replaced, it means the perception is that you are not adding value. So I need to ask an honest question: as the PM, do you think you were providing value to the project? Are you sure?

Sorry I didn't make myself clear in the submission, I'm a developer and my bosses (product manager) keep getting fired/reassigned.

Engineers shouldn't be reporting to product managers. I'm not sure what's going on in your team, but it sounds like there may be some wider organizational dysfunction.

Who should I go to for business requirements? I've been in a setup where I have a 'team lead' but generally they're the more technical person, don't have a good picture of business priority.

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