If your product is a whole, how can one deal with having no impact over some of it?
This post is about product-lemon, team-lemonade, and everything in between.
Have you ever had the feeling that you were left out?
That sometimes, things are just happening around, and you are not aware of how they got where they got? Well, sometimes, it happens to product managers too.
As product managers, we strive to be completely aware of all the aspects of our product and to be involved in just the right amount.
However, as we all know, we are not living in a perfect world. And things do not always work as we want or planned for them.
I’ve recently had the chance to meet with a fellow product manager that experienced a challenge in his daily work. He felt like he was getting insulated from certain aspects of the product he was leading.
And then, on a casual discussion with some of his teammates, he got the validation he was not looking for: some decisions were not his to make.
This feeling is something you might get once in a while. It some sort of a given.
But as with everything that has to do with the art of execution, it’s not about the situation but about how you handle it.
It is not something you will have to handle frequently, but it is something you can’t neglect and should know how to turn around.
Back to my friend’s situation: the first step towards change is to validate that you are indeed expected to be part of these decisions that you feel you are left out of.
The product manager’s role varies from company to company, and even within companies, there are various Product roles that are defined differently.
So first, check with your peers (if there are such) and colleagues if it is indeed a part you should be involved in. Try to do that casually over lunch or as part of a conversation on another topic. Once you gathered enough input, it would be a great time to share your findings with your manager.
Your manager might have a different take on the situation. She might want you to focus on other things and advocate for this insulation. Or maybe she believed it’s the right thing for you then. Talk about it.
So you got all the needed input, and your suspicion was correct.
It’s time for you to reverse-engineering the situation. Chat with the manager and understand the situation.
Then, try to come up with a couple (or more) solutions to the situation and consult openly on the best way to handle the unwanted insulation. Once you are both comfortable with the potential solution, go back to your colleagues and peers and try to understand from them if it sounds like the right solution. Be open to their thoughts and suggestions.
If the door is close to you, you shouldn’t break it. Get them to be excited by your solution so they will happily open it for you and welcome you in.
When the notion is that you have enough tailwind, it will be a good time to execute your solution.
And although this is just a framework, it’s one that works. Let’s examine it in action:
I recently spent some time with a PM friend that works in an e-commerce company. She felt that new initiatives coming from the marketing team were usually handed over as a requirement (or even as a demand).
She found out that the Marketing team created those requirements (or demands) after a series of meetings and consultations in various forums in which my PM friend was not present in at all. She started to investigate whether she should be part of those meetings or not, and she soon found that her predecessor had a very active role in these meetings. Checking with several other colleagues, she grew to understand that her predecessor was not very popular in these meetings and had a very “bossy” attitude during them.
It was now clear that the reason for not inviting her to the meeting was the team’s desire to avoid working with her predecessor and had nothing to do with her.
So next, she presented the situation to her manager and came up with two potential solutions: The first was to initiate a meeting on one or two completely new requests with the same marketing forum that left her out. This will give her the chance to show that team that she is not like the person they worked with before.
The second was to have lunch with the marketing team manager, explaining the value of her presence in these meetings. And as a side note, let the manager know that she is aware of the team’s experience with her predecessor and that she will do her best not to repeat any past mistakes.
The second solution felt quicker to make and more effective for my friend and her manager. And that was the chosen course of action.
A couple more “validations” with fellow teammates, and it was clear that the lunch meeting is the better solution.
It took place a few days later, and not an hour later (post-lunch), my friend got a barrage of invites to the marketing team’s meetings. As you probably guessed, the meeting went well.
As I mentioned earlier, all of the above is a framework for solving this kind of situation. You will probably have to adjust and adapt it to the structure and the people involved, I know I did.
After all, the most challenging aspect of being a successful product manager lies in the fact that we are all expected to influence without authority.
What are your tricks to open decision-doors that are closed?
Comment and share it with us!