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Why companies should have Product Editors, not Product Managers

One of the most compelling organizational things I’ve read about lately is Square’s practice of referring to their product team as Product Editors and the product editorial team, rather than the traditional “Product Management” title. Wanted to share some quick thoughts below about it.

Product managers: One of the toughest and worst defined jobs in tech
The role of “product manager” “program manager” “project manager” is one of the toughest, and worst defined jobs in tech. And it often doesn’t lead to good products. The various PM roles often have no direct reports, but you have the responsibility of getting products out the door. It often becomes a detail-oriented role that are as much about hitting milestones and schedules as much as delivering a great product experience.

Thus PMs sometimes end up in the world of Gantt charts, 100-page spec documents, and spreadsheets rather than thinking about products. Now, all the scheduling and management tasks matter, but it’s too easy for PMs to lead with them rather than leading with products first.

Bad ideas are often good ideas that don’t fit
In the context of literature, books, and newspapers, it’s the job of the editor to pick the good stuff and weave it into a coherent story. You remove the bad stuff, but “bad” can mean it’s a good idea but just doesn’t fit into the story. It’s a compelling and important distinction for consumer internet.

Cohesion and consistency is difficult. When you have an organization with lots of very smart people all with their own good ideas, it’s difficult to decide which path to take. So often, products are compromised as the product “manager” doesn’t feel the responsibility to build up that cohesion as an ends in itself, and instead just tries to do as much as possible with the product given some set timeframe. Focus, people!

Jack Dorsey in his own words
In a recent talk at Stanford, Jack Dorsey describes his idea of editors:

“I’ve often spoken to the editorial nature of what I think my job is, I think I’m just an editor, and I think every CEO is an editor. I think every leader in any company is an editor. Taking all of these ideas and editing them down to one cohesive story, and in my case my job is to edit the team, so we have a great team that can produce the great work and that means bringing people on and in some cases having to let people go. That means editing the support for the company, which means having money in the bank, or making money, and that means editing what the vision and the communication of the company is, so that’s internal and external, what we’re saying internally and what we’re saying to the world – that’s my job. And that’s what every person in this company is also doing. We have all these inputs, we have all these places that we could go – all these things that we could do – but we need to present one cohesive story to the world.”

A video of Jack Dorsey talking about the concept can be seen here:

Lead with product
What’s compelling to me about this is that it really orients the role of product to be about cohesive experiences first and foremost. OK, yes, there’s still schedules first, but it doesn’t drive the thing- great products drive the process.

Similarly, you don’t just jam lots of characters and plot points in a story just because. Even if they are good characters, it can bloat the story. Same with features- sometimes you have many, many good ideas for your product, but if you come to do all of them, you ultimately make it a confusing mess. Instead, you have to “edit” down the feature list until you have a clean, tight experience.

Anyway, I hope to see this trend continue in the tech industry – it sets the right tone for where we should all be focused.

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