In this scenario the product manager still looks after one product, but that product is significant enough that it requires work from more than one product team. We have two product manager characters in this story as the team-level product manager enters the equation. For the sake of clarity, let’s call the team-level product manager a product owner, or PO for short.
For the product manager, this may be your first time having people report to you, or in tougher situations those team-level PM’s that you rely on so much actually report to someone else. You also now find yourself in the middle with the company executives above and the working teams below. Your peers are now fellow product managers with their own products to fight for.
Most commonly, responsibilities tend to be split by strategic versus tactical or business/customer-facing versus technical/product team-facing. The product manager typically owns the strategic side and appears to be the final decision maker. The product owner typically owns the tactical side and is responsible for the day-to-day needs of the teams working on the product. In the worst of scenarios there is a clear division of responsibilities with handoffs from the PM to the PO.
In the best of scenarios, there is shared ownership and overlap. The width of this overlap speaks to how in sync these two people are and how much information is shared between them. If these two people get along, collaborate effectively, and share a common vision, the odds of greater team and product success are significantly higher. No matter which role you are in seek this partnership above all else in your job.
Struggles and TrapsThe PM and the PO face different struggles and traps. Often the one thing they have in common is a longing for what the other has with the PM seeking the good old days of when she was closer to the product and the PO working to progress his career to the next rung of product management, longing to be the strategic decision maker.
|Getting into adversarial relationships (especially with your fellow product managers)||This is a tough one especially when you are not organizationally on the same team. The working relationship between the PM, PO, and the team is critical to maintain.
|Falling asleep or falling too far into the weed||For the PM, your game has been elevated a bit but you still need to be awake. You can’t turn a blind eye to what is going on at the team level, but you also can’t micro-manage every decision, turning your POs into virtual secretaries.
|Managing up, down, and sideways||The influencing, leadership, and communication stakes just got a lot higher because your product is more complex.
Stay humble. When things go well, give credit to your teams. When things go poorly, accept responsibility. Communicate, communicate, communicate and respect all of the product managers for what they bring to the table, whether they are team level or strategic. If you do these things effectively, politics will shift more into the background, and the group can focus on the fun, product stuff.