Product Monday: The Product Manager Insecurity

Product managers are insecure about their perceived impact if they don’t interfere in the team’s work. Mastering the right level of interference makes a difference between success and failure.

This is harder when the product manager has experience in the product domain. A developer PM working on developer tools, a designer managing consumer product, or a marketer managing growth.

This leads to PMs pushing their ideas hard to teams, creating unnecessary tension. On the flip side, not showing that you have ideas might be perceived as lack of providing value, creating the insecurity I mentioned earlier.

A product colleague recently asked me about this problem. My answer to him was that you have to admit your limits, create success structures, and reinforce positive outcomes.

As a product manager your job is to manage by influence. Your impact is based on how much value you bring to customers, the team, and the business.

Because you manage by influence you have no control on most of the variables. That’s why you have to be mindful about which levers you choose to pull. Because each of them will move some parameters by some value. Your goal is to pull the highest value levers to achieve success.

We all have ideas we are passionate about, thinking they are silver bullets.┬áThe truth is most ideas don’t work or have moderate success. Few ideas work greatly.

You shouldn’t be too attached to your ideas. Because the number of times you are right are far less than the times you are wrong. And if you are in an organization where you are liable for your decisions, pushing your own ideas and them not working will have consequences.

Being humble and admitting your own limits is the first step to achieve success even in a domain where you have previous experience and knowledge.

The good news is that there are few principles if you follow you increase your – and the product – chances of success. Among the top being customer centric, and iterating fast. No product or product manager failed because they did the right thing for customers or were testing ideas quickly*.

While things like being data driven and doing user research may be common sense to you, the biggest mistake product managers make is to isolate the team from those insights and becoming a router between the insights and the team. This decreases your believability. Because they always get from you that customers want this or that. It makes it hard to distinguish between what you want, and what customers really want. It makes you a blocking factor, making the team dysfunctional when you are not there. And most importantly, detaching the team from the insights makes them non-convicted in doing what’s right for the customer.

That’s why structures matter. You need to be transparent about the process by which insights are generated, and invite team members to be part of it. Take engineers with you to user research. Make them moderate sessions. Review the scripts you prepare with them. Coach them on asking open ended questions and not leading customers in a certain way. Show them how you look at the data to derive decisions. When they have an idea tell them how you would assess it and guide them on how to validate it. Do this without asking them to do your job. Do this because you want them to be engaged and get better at it.

The previous two steps are not complete without reinforcing positive results. Positive results normally come when the team members including yourself admit your limits, you have the right structure that allows you to generate proper insights and decide where to hit, and you have an objective way to measure success.

When this is all done, you need to reinforce those results by reflecting with the team on how those results came. They need to continue listening to the customer and becoming better at this. They need to keep an open mind and iterate fast. And they need to correct each other when someone wants to do something that doesn’t provide value to customers.

If you do this, your impact will be felt, your team will be happy, you will have successful results, and you won’t be insecure any more.