Executive sponsors can be great. They help get you resources and funding. They provide insights into the broader strategy. They give you a look at what is happening across the organization and make sure things stay on track. But what if there is no one supporting you at this level? Uh-oh. You are a product manager on your own — fighting for attention and resources.
It is true that this might seem like a difficult spot to be in. How can your product possibly succeed without some backing from leadership?
Finding someone to champion your product can be difficult when you realize no one with a big title is pulling for you. Leaders are often asked to attach themselves to multiple, even dozens of products and projects. They cannot say yes to all of the requests.
Before you feel too hopeless, let me tell you something. This is based on my experience building products for more than 20 years and now that our team at Aha! works with thousands of product managers who are using our roadmapping software.
Not having an executive sponsor does not equate to the end of your product or any chance for promotion.
Sure an executive sponsor typically helps if they are respected internally, but having one is not everything. As the product manager, you need to be your product’s greatest advocate and asset regardless of whether you have an SVP or GM on your side.
It is your job to set the goals for your offering and the plan to achieve those goals. It is your job to make sure your plans tie back to what the company is trying to accomplish. And it is through your leadership and effort that the product will gain attention and success externally and internally. No executive sponsorship or lack of it can change that.
Here is how to use your knowledge and expertise to highlight your product and get the support that you need:
Showing executives exactly how your product goals serve the company’s overarching strategy is the strongest way to prove value. You need to show that you understand where the company is headed and how your product delivers on that direction. Put together a strategic roadmap that visualizes this — mapping the major themes or initiatives you have planned for your product to those business goals.
Talk to customers
Providing customers with the best experience possible and earning their loyalty should be your top priority. Tactically, customer feedback will help you make better prioritization decisions so you can deliver that experience. But sharing this feedback internally will also help build credibility and respect. When it is clear how your work impacts customers, it can be easier to get executive sponsorship for future enhancements and iterations.
It is hard to argue with facts. Use real data and numbers in those product plans you create. Make sure you are tracking and presenting the most compelling metrics that show past success and future potential. Even if your product is not the most compelling or exciting in the portfolio, when you can show the benefit through hard data, you will find interest from leaders piqued.
Get to know colleagues across the entire organization. You cannot wait for them to come to you. Be proactive and ask for their insights on the customer and the market. Explain how you will use those insights in your product or how your product already addresses those pain points. Connect and find ways to talk about your product. The more you do, the more people you will have advocating for it.
One product manager I spoke with said that, in the absence of an executive attached to his product, he requested to attend high-level planning meetings to share quick updates about his roadmap plans and growing customer adoption. This might not be possible depending on your organization, but you should be as communicative as you can be. Keep leaders informed with progress reports and customer feedback that shows why your product matters. You may just learn that the company has bigger plans for what you are working on.
Lack of leadership support can be frustrating — until you remember that even with an executive sponsor, you are still the person most responsible for your product’s success.
The final piece of advice I have to offer is a reminder to be kind to yourself. You want your product to be enticing and compelling for the right reasons. And I will bet if you have read this far, you are willing to put in the hard work to do so.
But if even after all that hard work, no executive signs on? Hey, you still have the opportunity to change how people live and work every day. You still have the adventure and honor of being a product manager.
Give your strongest effort to make your offering the best it can be. Maintain that effort and focus on your customers and team. In the end, this is what is most important for building a successful and beloved product.
Have you lacked an executive sponsor in the past? What did you do?