I believe the best product managers are willing to do whatever it takes to help their teams succeed. An important aspect of that is recognizing that PMs often have to do the work that would fall through the cracks otherwise. By definition that can be grimy, un-fun work: cleaning the bug queue, organizing a document repository, replying to a customer support email. No job should be beneath a product manager. PMs are more humble servants than “CEOs of the product.” They put their teams first, they do what needs to be done, and they demonstrate that every day.
In 2005 I was preparing to give a talk at Berkeley’s Haas School of Business about product management. I was looking for a rhetorical device to convey this and I settled on “bring the donuts.” If PMs don’t bring donuts for the team on launch day, who else will? I’m not sure why I picked donuts. At the time my competitive cycling career was still flourishing and bagels were more my style. But donuts it was, and the concept stuck.
Since then, product management and donuts have sort of become synonymous. People tweet me with photos of the donuts they’re bringing, PM meetups and conferences serve donuts, and when I meet an early career PM, there’s a good chance they’ll bring donuts too (a practice my officemates wholeheartedly endorse.)
One of my favorite quotes comes from this Buzzfeed interview with Jason Goldman:
“Startups are run by people who do what’s necessary at the time it’s needed. A lot of time that’s unglamorous work. A lot of times that’s not heroic work. Is that heroic? Is that standing on a stage in a black turtleneck, in front of 20,000 people talking about the future of phones? No. But that’s how companies are built. That person who did that for the iPhone launch at Apple, we don’t know who he is. All we know is that Steve Jobs came up with the iPhone. But he didn’t ship it. The person who bought the donuts did.”
So, keep bringing those donuts.
How to Hire a Product Manager
The classic essay that defined the product manager role
What makes a great product manager, and how do you become one? This is Ken Norton's classic essay on the role of product management that launched thousands of PM careers.
10x Not 10%
Product management by orders of magnitude
In this ambitious essay, Ken Norton looks at the history of innovation and challenges product managers and product leaders to think bigger, to aim for 10x, not 10%.
Please Make Yourself Uncomfortable
What product managers can learn from jazz musicians
What can product managers and product leaders learn from jazz, an art form that is all about improvisation, collaboration, and being willing to take risks?
What to Do in Your First 30 Days in a New Role
Tips for how product managers should approach their first month
Congratulations, a product has found its product manager. How you approach your first 30 days will make a tremendous difference, setting you up for success or struggle.
Best Books for Product Managers
Essential product management reading
Ken Norton shares his recommended books for product managers. The best books on product leadership, innovation, management, shipping winning products, and design thinking.
Ants and Aliens: Long-term Product Planning
Why you need a thirty-year product vision (yes, thirty)
How do you plan for the future and deliver an innovative and compelling product vision that will inspire your team to deliver winning products?