Hippocratic Oath for Product Managers

CB028462On June the 3rd 400 students graduating from Harvard Business School took an oath to “serve the greater good”, “act with the utmost integrity” and guard against “decisions and behaviour that advance my own narrow ambitions, but harm the enterprise and the societies it serves.”  It is not exactly a Hippocratic Oath, which was sworn to Apollo and starts with a promise to share your goods with your teacher and his children, but an oath nonetheless.

Clearly not early adopters, the Harvard graduates were following in the footsteps of graduates of Thunderbird School of Global Management who started taking an oath of honor in 2004:

As a Thunderbird and a global citizen, I promise:

I will strive to act with honesty and integrity,

I will respect the rights and dignity of all people,

I will strive to create sustainable prosperity worldwide,

I will oppose all forms of corruption and exploitation, and

I will take responsibility for my actions.

As I hold true to these principles, it is my hope that I may enjoy an honorable reputation and peace of conscience.

This pledge I make freely and upon my honor.

Most of the oaths I have sworn have been unprintable, so it got me thinking as to what a Product Manager’s oath would be.

The Product Manager has a unique position standing not only across all functions within the organisation, but also representing customers and being knowledgeable about competitors.  Much of their time is spent balancing the interests of all these different groups, and usually pleasing none of them.

So how might our oath help them to make it clear what their values are, and to help these interest groups to understand their position?  Well, I’ve made a first pass at it:

As a Product Manager and global citizen, I promise:

I will be honest about my products and their features and will ensure that the marketing department does not exaggerate their capabilities,

I will correct any misunderstanding that my customers may gain from lying salesmen about my product features and when they are likely to be released (if ever),

I will make it clear that my roadmap is more of a fantasy wish list and has little to do with any recognisable reality,

I will not allow my products to be released until they are fit for purpose and will stand up to the CEO when he yells “just release the product now!”,

I will stand firm with QA when Development tell us that there is “no point fixing the bug because no one ever uses that feature”, and

I will empathise with my customers even when they compare my products to unpleasant bodily functions.

As I hold true to these principles, it is my hope that I will not be fired on my first day and that my honourable reputation will not be the laughing stock of the company.

Oh well, I guess there is as much chance of a Product Manager sticking to that oath as there is of the Harvard MBAs sticking to theirs.  But it does remind us that a Product Manager’s role can put them at odds with (almost) everyone else’s agenda.  So, if we are to deliver truly great products, we need to be strong and stand up to those pressures, to be sure of our path and communicate that vision in a way which motivates others to follow us along it.

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