Product managers and their more recent Agile brethren, product owners, hold one of the most demanding positions in an organisation. As the crucial nexus in the product development framework, their plate is all too often full with business demands, technical requirements, and marketing concerns. Product management in this context can feel like chaos, the type of which can either be controlled or skidding along thin ice. So how do you stay focused and organised, use team dynamics to your advantage and play to individual strengths?
Learn the ins and Especially the Outs First
Budding product managers can easily feel overwhelmed when addressing the political dimensions of their enterprise. Depending on the corporate culture, these may play a bigger or smaller role in your everyday job.
Locate your allegiances and loyalties first, and always be in the know. Analyse the dependencies of your product and the main stakeholders that will enable or inhibit progress.
Routine is a Good Thing
Time is a fleeting resource. With the abundance of requests and decisions that your position demands, your schedule can easily look like a papier-maché model of Quasimodo’s head. Compartmentalising and scheduling your duties is key, especially if you are directly responsible for a product key. Scheduling time to address their concerns will ensure that the team is receiving the appropriate attention. This is also tied to reciprocity. It will ensure that you are aware of the critical issues and, equally importantly, that the team knows they can count on you.
Stick it out or Pack it in?
Staying devoted to a course or product can be difficult. There are so many opportunities out there, why endure the hardship? Especially when your success depends entirely on the product. But if the product is not going anywhere, neither is your career as a product manager. However, some projects have a remarkably long gestation period, so patience is required.
First, know which direction you want to move in and set firm milestones. Assess regularly and always question metrics. A marginal success can be merely the result of a random confluence of events. Always take incremental gains with a grain of salt — but take them as a success anyway.
Be Proud of Your Product
Pride is not too often considered a good quality in business communication, but it can work wonders for team and corporate engagement. Pride feeds your passion as a product manager, and your team and colleagues can feel the conviction in your words. You should be the first to want to link your name to a product, and the first one to want to show it to people. If you feel the product does not fit your personal vision, make it fit. Pursuing a personal vision will increase your conviction and decision-making effectiveness, and inspire others through your example. Everything we do affects those those around us to a greater or lesser degree. If you work on increasing the scope of your influence, collaborative relationships will become easier to manage and promote.
Don’t be Afraid to Listen
People fall behind, become demotivated, play personal and professional games, and smooth workflow management comes at great cost and experimentation. Stakeholder management is a tricky business, and pushing a personal agenda may be interpreted as narcissism. However, actual dedication to a product manifests
Reciprocity is key to human relationships, and something as simple as making sure that everybody is heard in a meeting will work wonders for your professional standing. Your time is a limited resource, but don’t be afraid to share it with those who really need it.
Develop Your Technical Skills (or Fake it Till you Make it)
How are you going to plan iterations and build a reliable roadmap with your team without at least having a basic notion of the technologies they use? Talk with your tech and design leads often and always attend tech planning and review meetings, regardless of how peripheral your input might be. The best way to develop a perception of the technical implications of your product is to delve into its functional organisation. Look at the product architecture and the components involved. Understand their purpose, if not the underlying technical requirements. Understand the role of the key components of the product, and how they communicate. You will be in a much better position to explain to your CTO why you absolutely need those four weeks of backend refactoring.
Work on Your Eloquence
Conciseness and preparation play huge roles in everyday communication, but even more so in the context of an enterprise. Nobody will listen to muddled or unclear messages, unless you hold tremendous respect in the corporate hierarchy – and that respect is for the most part earned, not awarded. It’s critical that you show up on time, lay it on the line, and get out of the conversation while the going is good. Engage in negotiation with enthusiasm and a smile. Work your corporate support by building bridges. If a particular team or stakeholder that you depend on is reticent or openly hostile, arrange for lunch together or shop for an office visit. They will not necessarily love you, but there will be a rapport which will make working together easier in the future.
Product management is tied directly to communication. The more expressive your style is, the better you will communicate the project demands and your views on them. The easiest way to convey this is by being truly passionate about the product, but always acknowledge the reality of the marketplace and the industry. When discussing products, act strongly but fairly, and use expressions like “what if” and “I need your help” regularly. As a product manager, you are fighting for solutions, and constant collaboration is the best way to achieve these. Despite the cliché that is typically associated with them, proactivity and engagement (in yourself and others) are truly the keys to success.
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