Wartime PMs, Peacetime PMs

Ben Horowitz's blog is a cornucopia of insight and pure wisdom. 

One post I've really liked is Peacetime CEO/Wartime CEO. It got me thinking about Product Managers in general, and how there is such a thing as a Peacetime PM and Wartime PM. 

Here are a couple of excerpts from Ben's post:
Peacetime CEO spends time defining the culture. Wartime CEO lets the war define the culture. 
Peacetime CEO always has a contingency plan. Wartime CEO knows that sometimes you gotta roll a hard six.
Peacetime CEO knows what to do with a big advantage. Wartime CEO is paranoid.

Peacetime CEO thinks of the competition as other ships in a big ocean that may never engage. Wartime CEO thinks the competition is sneaking into her house and trying to kidnap her children. 
Peacetime CEO aims to expand the market. Wartime CEO aims to win the market. 
Peacetime CEO strives for broad based buy in. Wartime CEO neither indulges consensus-building nor tolerates disagreements. 
Peacetime CEO sets big, hairy audacious goals. Wartime CEO is too busy fighting the enemy to read management books written by consultants who have never managed a fruit stand.

Ben goes on to make the point that people (or companies) are by nature either peacetime people/organizations or wartime people/organizations, however the needs of their product or company may vary with time and it needs people to either adjust (or get new people). 

I think the same applies to every team, every product and by extension to every Product Manager. Product Managers are human (...mostly anyway) and each are better suited to either wartime or peacetime. Similarly, every product at different points will be served better by either approach.

Most people that knew me from a few years ago would tell you that I default to "Peacetime PMing" - I like to spend as much time as necessary thinking through the problem, I'd advocate trusting engineering to come up with the right architecture, shipping when I thought were were "ready", ignoring competition or alternatives, putting quality before dates, innovation and true value before perception and encourage a culture of product where we solicit inputs from everyone and filter to the right answer.

However, the products I've worked on at Google over the last four years yanked me hard in the "Wartime PMing" direction - these were products that were, in some form or the other, under siege - large competitor(s), internal pressure, too many voices/ideas that needed to be rationalized, a strong need for advocating for resources internally or externally, teams that needed wins and needed them fast, products that needed a quick turnaround before we could ramp up. I ended up developing a set of skills and a style of PMing that didn't exactly take over my "Peacetime" tendencies, but modified them significantly, overall for the better. It forced me to develop skills, and indeed changed by personality a bit - things that I think are critical for my job - more products need good Wartime PMs than solid Peacetime PMs. :-)

Good PMs recognize both their defaults (most people don't), and the needs of their product and are able to switch from being peacetime generals to wartime generals easily. 

Good PMs recognize that a product's needs may be different from what comes to you naturally and being able to adapt your style accordingly is key.


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