I recently offered some advice to product managers lacking executive support. When I was reading through some of the comments on social media, one stood out to me. And it caused me pain. “Leadership at my company does not even understand what product management really is.”
The painful reality is that this murky understanding of product management is not that uncommon.
It is also not uncommon for other groups within the organization to have final say on product decisions — which basically is the same as not understanding the importance of product leadership in the first place.
When company leaders do not understand the true value or purpose of product management, it can feel as if you have no hope of achieving your business goals. And just as bad, no hope of really growing your skills.
Lots of situations lead to this. But the most common culprit is that the company’s product management role is not well defined. Some companies simply do not have a strategic focus. They get muddled in tactical, reactive “What new technical feature should we add next?” work. Others take a draconian approach, with executives dictating what should be done and when.
This can also happen when product management reports into engineering. In this case, leadership tends to view product management more as a project management function — pushing work along and reporting out on status, while the engineering team sets the product priorities.
Does any of this sound familiar? Then I have one major piece of advice: You need to have a clear vision for the product, communicate transparently about it, and own the responsibility to organize what should be built next based on it.
You know how important your role really is even if no one else does.
You can be part of educating your organization and bringing those product management best practices into place. You lay the foundation for building something great. It starts with you no matter what is going on around you.
Some of this might sound familiar — I covered similar ground in my previous post on what to do when your product does not have an executive sponsor. But the differences between these situations, while subtle, are important enough to warrant further guidance.
Here are four places to start when executives do not value product management:
Lead with strategy
If your leadership does not show your function respect or understanding, there is a good chance they have not shared the overall company strategy with you. (Assuming they even have one.) So, you can lead and work by example. Set a strategy for your own product. Define the vision, create customer personas, and analyze the competition. Then, set your goals and initiatives for your product that map to where you think the business is headed.
Show tangible value
Take advantage of every opportunity to demonstrate your expertise by organizing and leading. Build a longer-term view of your product plan in a roadmap view and start showcasing how the work that is being done is driving real customer and organizational value. Report out on both planning and execution progress regularly. Doing so will build awareness and trust for yourself and your role.
You work with individuals and teams across the organization. Many appreciate you and the work of product management. Every conversation is an opportunity to strengthen and enlighten their understanding of what you do and the positive impact it has. Be patient. Take the time to explain what tasks and responsibilities the product team owns and how your work can support their own responsibilities.
Do the job exceptionally well
All the advice I give above is important. But none of it will amount to anything if you do not do your core work well. Not just checking off your to-do list, but really delivering what you say you will. Get deeply curious about customers and be tireless in your pursuit of finding the right solutions. Be a reliable partner to your cross-functional teams. Do your job so well that they cannot ignore the contributions you are making and see the value that only great product managers can bring.
It might seem baffling that leadership does not understand how essential product management is to the success of the product today.
But do not despair and do not give up. Remember that you control your thoughts and actions and can build from there. In the end, your effort and your contributions are what will earn respect — from customers and from your company leaders.
How do you show the value of product management?