I had to fill my Q2 performance review this week, and I got stumbled in a question that asked me to assess my leadership/adaptation skill. I found it was difficult to answer that part. Still, after thinking about it for a day, I ended up writing, “I think I am a (proud) shit umbrella for everyone.”
I first heard about the term “shit umbrella” in a webinar session from a Google PM, Israel Shalom. My first response after knowing the word was, “OMG, there is a term for what I think I am experiencing now. It is a relief to realize that what I was on is also the plight of other PMs. Knowing that makes me feel like I am doing my job right since other PMs feel the same. It is such a validation, you know? (since sometimes I cannot confidently say I know well what I am doing → read: warning from my first post). Some other people might say that it is an excuse to make me feel better, make me think I do something great and necessary, but yeah, this is what I think (will admit it).
These days my work just really got me so overwhelmed. I have to become a shield in Captain America hands to stand for justice (in my context: facing everyone who is always complaining about everything) :(
In the meeting with developers after a restructuration due to COVID 19:
A: I did not get it, why did our team get merged?
M: We need to boost our efficiency to face COVID, you know we do not have that much luxury.
A: You know, it is hard for me to learn many things because of it. Can you just tell our boss to revert the restructuration? (mumbling and have another complaining session with his colleagues).
M: (just in my heart while grumbling) Why don’t you said it by yourself? → But, in the end, I tried to have 1:1 with my boss to bring up the aspiration.
During the weekly meeting to evaluate issues from the operational team:
P: Hey product team, your job is suck. Why are the bugs never-ending? It seems like we cannot trust the product anymore; hence, we are reluctant to use it.
M: (everybody is in silence, I am the only one who can speak in this kind of moment, the single one mic ON is mine) Hmm, we tried our best, but we cannot reproduce it until now. It is like an intermittent. I’ll let you know if there is progress regarding it.
While having a session with my designers who decide to have Interaction Designer and User Experience Researcher roles separated, but the job desc is (maybe) so similar; therefore, there is misunderstanding even between them.
Y (IxD): My job starts in the ideation phase, I supposedly actively involved in that phase until the end.
M: But it is not enough to only have one you with three UX researchers at the same time. The result is like now. The backlogs are queueing like hell.
Y: Yeah, I cannot handle it anymore. My job is too many.
R (UX): You are not supposed to actively involved in those phases. You are responsible only for the Hi-Fi.
M: Oh, oh, does it mean there is a misunderstanding between you guys? (once again, only in my heart: OMG you are expert in this field (there is a leader in the designer team, and two of them are mature enough), can you just finish this “thing” by yourself? Why must I be included in this kind of situation? Can I trust you to handle it?)
Y (IxD): But I also want to be included in those phases?
M: (OH NO, you said you cannot handle it, but you want to still handle it just because of your ego, Jesus Christ! → only in my heart again)
Those are my typical day conversation over many meetings. I am really sick of it. Sometimes I feel like, fuck it. I must absorb all the negativities and become the one who is sane in the world full of ego-driven people. Huft, do you ever think about my feeling?
Till, today, I read an article from Roadmunk that states:
How if the product managers are more like translators for the rest of the organization. When you’re facing pressure from all sides, it’s your job to translate those demands into actionable imperatives for the engineering team. I look at the shit umbrella as a “translation” layer, not just a “deflection” layer. You’ve got stakeholders (including C-level), then the umbrella, then the devs. You could have lots and lots of noise coming from C-level, but then through internalization and transformation by the product manager, all that noise (*hopefully*) becomes a few quiet, manageable pieces of feedback that eventually get back to devs. It’s an act of translation.
I dig more and read another article by Julie Zhuo, former Facebook PM.
Take a deep breath. It’s not shit. It’s the energy and chaos and spirit of People Doing what they Honestly Believe is the Best Thing They Could Be Doing. It’s trying and sometimes failing and learning in the process. It’s not perfect, but what person or job or life is? Close your eyes and trust.
When I read it, it makes me feel like, “Holy crap! I am the one who is negative all this time. Everyone just tries their best to stand for something right from their point of view. I must realize that it is not malice from them. Besides that, if I think about it again, I am also an ego-driven person, but luckily I can manage it. Hmm, I think I need to change my point of view. I know this is not an easy job (given that in my current condition, and frankly said I am not the positive thinking guy). But I think I need to try. I mean what if the things I do is (hopefully) actually really great. Maybe I can shift my consciousness to become a proud shit umbrella. This is a learning process. Maybe, after all of these, I will become a more decent PM, or perhaps more decent human being (finger crossed).
Yeah, I take my breath, and I talk to myself, “You are doing good.”
I will say the same to my fellow PMs anywhere whoever feels like that. “C’mon pal, you are doing great!”
See, this time once again, internalization hits me. As I said before, I believe my job as a PM is about internalization (read: know how to do better and try to live it).
Let’s work hard again until hopefully, we do not need an umbrella anymore, since all the communication is streamlined, product understanding in universal, and everyone grabs their part in terms of product ownership. Maybe we should create more space which throws away hesitation to said something right upfront. Talk about this later. See you.