Lead on Purpose

Promoting Leadership Principles in Product Management


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Leadership and Product Management

The key to successful product management is working well with other teams. Product managers hold a unique position in the company: they depend on people from other groups, but they do not have managerial authority over those people (in most cases). Their success depends on their ability to build consensus and inspire the other team members to do great things. Therefore, a product manager must earn the trust of people in the organization and influence them to do their jobs effectively and efficiently. Product management — at every level — is a leadership role within the organization.

Here are the key roles that are crucial to your success as a product manager, and why they are important:

  • Engineering/QA: The relationship with the engineering/development team is paramount for product managers. Product managers need to provide direction for how a product should be built, and through your understanding of the market, give them assurance they are building the right product. Give them what they need, then take a step back and trust them to deliver.
  • Customer support: They form the front line to the customers and are always the first to know when things go wrong. They get the most up-to-date, critical information from customers of any group in the company. Work closely with the support team to assure your products meet customer needs.
  • Marketing: When most people hear the word ‘marketing,’ the duties of PR and marcom are how they usually interpret it. It’s crucial for product managers to work with marketing to ensure they understand the new product and know what it’s capable of doing. With this information marketing communicates the product effectively to customers and the market in general. Their questioning and probing of a product’s value is important to its success.
  • Product Marketing: This group is responsible for outbound product communication — i.e. they tell the world what the product is, the features it has and the reasons for making the purchase. Product marketing helps product management understand how the product will be received. Working together, product marketing and product management understand the market, build the right product(s) and effectively communicate to the people in the market.
  • Sales: Without a solid sales team the company will not succeed. The relationship between sales and product management is important (though somewhat difficult a times). The sales people who “get it” will feed critical information back to product management to improve the products, but they will not expect things to change overnight or for their next sale. When the PM makes a concerted effort to have a strong relationship with sales, their product success will increase.
  • Accounting/Finance: This group is often completely ignored by product management. Smart product managers know the value of having allies in the CFO’s office. At the end of the day, if the product doesn’t make money, nothing else matters.
  • Executives: A product manager’s relationship with executives varies depending on the size of the company; the larger the company, the more removed. In big companies product managers need to work effectively with the directors and VPs of the groups listed above. They should know these leaders personally and be able to walk into their office and have a discussion. The same holds true for the CEO and executives at smaller companies. The PM needs to work closely with them and provide solid evidence regarding product direction. You need to evangelize product management to executives and show them — with data and continual successes — the importance of sound product management practices.
Product managers who can work successfully with these (and other) groups in their companies will release great products and have success throughout their careers.

What other roles are important for success in product management? What have you found to be important in your organization? Please leave a comment and let me know about your experience working with other teams.


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Five Factors of Leadership revisited

In the first episode of the Product Management Pulse podcast, my guest Dr. Paul and I discussed the Five Factors of Leadership, originally posted in May 2008. I have updated the content and re-post it here.

Product managers have to be leaders (in the true sense of the word) because they have the responsibility on their shoulders to get products out the door on time, with high quality and under budget. The kicker – and the reason they must be leaders – is the people they rely on to get the job done do not (usually) report them. Their success depends on their ability to build consensus and inspire team members to do great things.

The following five factors, if understood and applied, will improve the leadership role of product managers and increase their value within their organization:

  1. People are assets: In any company or organization, the real assets are the people. Their intellect—along with personality, skills, knowledge, character, integrity, and other things collectively referred to as “human life value”—create the true value in any organization. When product managers see the people on the team as the true assets, and treat them accordingly, they will command the respect of a leader.
  2. Trust is vital: Those who value their team members build trust. The trust goes both ways: product managers need to carry out their tasks in such a way that the team members can trust them. They (the PMs) also need to trust that the team members will do what they have committed to do.
  3. Knowledge is power: Truthfully, knowledge is potential power; only when knowledge is applied does it become true power. Product managers must be learners. Many resources exist for learning: books, trade magazines, blogs, podcasts, analyst reports, etc. As they accumulate knowledge and put it into action, their success will increase.
  4. Paradigm provides focus: The way in which product managers see their world – their ‘paradigm’ – influences their effectiveness as a leader. They can take the ‘victim’ approach or the ‘agent/hero’ approach. If they blame others and wonder why the world (or their team, or their customers) is against them they are taking the victim approach. If they take accountability for their actions and do whatever it takes to succeed, they become agents of positive change. They become heroes to those whom they lead. Not ‘hero’ in the sense of super heroes, but in the sense of someone who does more than they are expected (and probably paid) to do.
  5. Decisions determine future: Leaders make decisions regularly. Successful product managers understand their markets and make difficult decisions that are not always accepted by team members or customers. They do not make decisions carelessly or in cavalier style, but they also do not cower from the responsibility to make a judgment call. They make choices and stand behind them. Ultimately they make decisions that lead their teams and their products to succeed.

These factors apply to many other disciplines and aspects of business. The focus on product management stems – as mentioned – from product managers needing to lead without having management authority over the people responsible for their success. Product managers who understand and apply these factors will become effective leaders.


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Five factors of leadership

I’ve stated before that product managers have to be leaders (in the true sense of the word) because they have the responsibility on their shoulders to get products out the door on time, with high quality and under budget. The kicker – and the reason they must be leaders – is the people they rely on to get the job done do not (usually) report them. Their success depends on their ability to build consensus and inspire the team members to do great things.

I have identified five factors that, if understood and applied, will improve the leadership role of product managers:

  • People are assets: In any company or organization, the real assets are the people. Their intellect—along with personality, skills, knowledge, character, integrity, and other things collectively referred to as “human life value”—create the true value in any organization. When product managers see the people on the team as the true assets, and treat them accordingly, they will command the respect of a leader.
  • Trust is vital: Those who value their team members build trust. The trust goes both ways: product managers need to carry out their tasks in such a way that the team members can trust them. They (the PMs) also need to trust that the team members will do what they have committed to do.
  • Knowledge is power: Truthfully, knowledge is potential power; only when it’s applied does it become true power. It’s vitally important for product managers to be learners. Many resources exist for learning: books, trade magazines, blogs, analyst reports, etc. As they take in knowledge and put it into action, their success will increase.
  • Paradigm provides focus: The way in which product managers see their world – their ‘paradigm’ – influences their effectiveness as a leader. They can take the ‘victim’ approach or the ‘agent/hero’ approach. If they blame others and wonder why the world (or their team, or their customers) is against them they are taking the victim approach. If they take accountability for their actions and do whatever it takes to succeed, they become agents of positive change. They become heroes to those whom they lead. Not ‘hero’ in the sense of super heroes, but in the sense of someone who does more than they are expected (and probably paid) to do.
  • Decisions determine future: Leaders make decisions regularly. Successful product managers understand their markets and make difficult decisions that are not always accepted by team members or customers. They do not make decisions carelessly or in cavalier style, but they also do not cower from the responsibility to make a judgment call. They make choices and stand behind them. Ultimately they make decisions that lead their teams and their products to succeed.

These factors apply to many other disciplines and aspects of business. The focus on product management stems – as mentioned – from product managers needing to lead without having management authority over the people responsible for their success. I am confident that product managers who understand and apply these factors will become effective leaders. I am equally confident that anyone – in any field – who applies these factors will find success.

Please leave a comment and let me know whether this resonates with your experience in product management or any other discipline.

One last note: I have been invited to speak at the Software Management Perspectives conference next week where I will examine the Five Factors in more detail. If you attend please stop by and introduce yourself.