I received an email recently:

Hello Freeman,

I ran into your Chinese blog site when I was searching “Femtocell” over Internet. Currently I am a test engineer working on home networking gadgets like xDSL home gateway, etc. My current job is way too far from customers. We do not have to talk with our customers in person. Instead, we just hold the PRD (Product Requirement Document) and make sure if all of the requested features are working fine. Therefore, it’s not easy to get a deep understanding of the industry and marketplace. Actually I feel that I am kind of losing the big picture. That’s why I am always thinking to be a product manager. But I just have no idea where to start.

Now I think maybe I can learn something from you. How did you become a product manager? Transitioned from developer? And what is important to be a successful product manager (of course I have read the articles like “10 tips to be a good product manager”, I just want to know what you think from your own experience).

It will be great if you can take some time to read and reply this mail :-).

Thank you.

It is very interesting that I can see two major problems:

  • First, it is very normal for the author, as a R&D engineer, to have a feeling that “losing the big picture”, but the problem should be blamed on the management side. I do not think his or her manager is a good motivator.
  • Second, the author raised a very common question: How to move to Product Manager position?

In this blog entry, I tried to comment on the first problem:

Why to motivate team by big picture is important?

Many managers do not share the big picture with his team. This is usually for two reasons. One reason is that the manager thinks his subordinates just need to follow his command to do assignments, and do not need to know too much else. The other reason is that the manager has a so narrow or selfish attitude that he worries that his subordinates may know too much.

I disagree both. I believe that sharing the overall situation, the big picture and the vision (but in an appropriate way) to the team is a good approach to motivate the team.

The idea comes to me when I was doing my first job as an entry level software development engineer. At that time my manager just assigned to me tasks such as doing software programming to finish a certain function before the project deadline. But I have no idea of the big picture. Sometime I just have to ask myself:
• Why we need to do this project?
• What is the value of our current work?
• Whether and how the customer will use our product?
• Whether there is any competitor that can do a better job than us?

I was frustrated and cannot see the value of my daily job. Eventually I lost morale, and the passion for the job.

Later when I became a manager, I began to know the importance of the morale of my team. I know I should motivate my team. And I remembered my painful experience. I realized that I should share the big picture with my team. And I did it.

For example, for most technical issues, after we come out the solution and decisions for the way forward, not only I will explain the technical consequence to the engineering who are assigned to do the real implementation job, but also I will tell the engineers the “Why” of the decision. Why is much more important than What and How. I will tell them how our customers will benefit from this solution instead of that solution. I will tell them how this solution will increase our business value, or catch up with or beat our competitor. I found that engineers are inspired after they understood better for the whole big picture and their value and contribution. The team was energetic and kept with high morale.

These facts further strengthen my belief that to share big picture with team is a good way to motivate the team.

Of course for managers, this does not necessarily means that you should disclose everything to everyone in your team. You need to spread information in an appropriate and intelligent way. And a smart leader will give different people different visions.

I really wish the email author’s manager could read this article.