Lead on Purpose

Promoting Leadership Principles in Product Management

The lonely PM

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I recently read an interesting post by Byron Workman that he called A Dying Product Manager. He talks about a person he met who was the only product manager (PM) at his company. He struggled to help others at the company understand the strategic role of product management and was unable to get visibility at the right levels of the company. Byron says:

He had all the responsibility, for all products, but no authority. He didn’t have any other people on his team to help him, and he had no way to get development or marketing to assist him. They looked at him only as a guy who new what all the features in the product are, and was a good source of answers to questions no one else knew.

Having lived through a similar situation, I can attest to the difficulty of working to promote sound product management practices in a situation where a company has never had product management and some do not understand the vital role a PM plays. It can be frustrating to attempt to establish sound practices when you feel like it’s an up-hill battle. Hopefully the following suggestions will help if you find yourself in a similar situation:

  • Communicate early and often: As the ‘lonely PM’ in the company it’s imperative you communicate the strategic role of product management up-front and often thereafter to assure everyone on the team (executive or otherwise) understands how you will add value to the company. 
  • Visit customers ASAP: A key to becoming the voice of the customer is to get out of the office and visit customers as soon after you start as possible. This will not be easy because the person/people who hired you will expect to see you in the office and may have concerns about the cost of travel. However, taking the initiative to understand customers’ (and potential customers’) needs will help develop the role of product management as the voice of the market; the sooner this occurs the better.
  • Become the leader: The role a PM plays in a well-run product company is critical. The PM should establish him/herself as a leader by working to build consensus and inspire others.
Establishing yourself as a respected product expert and the voice of the customer can be a difficult task for a product manager. However, there are ample resources to help, and many others PMs who have been through it and will gladly help if you reach out to them. At the end of the day, it’s not as lonely as it sometimes seems.
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