Influence Without Authority – Powerful Advice for Product Managers

Anne Steiner, now VP of Product Strategy at Cprime, has earned a stellar reputation as a coach and trainer for product managers and agile teams. Since DevJam joined the Cprime family in 2017, we’ve learned a ton from Anne and her incredibly talented team, so when we heard she was being interviewed on the influential industry podcast, Schmidt List, we were all ears.

We encourage you to check out the full podcast when you have an hour to invest because there’s tons of great insight shared there. The full episode is embedded below:

Listen to “Why Being Wrong is Right with Anne Steiner – Ep 033” on Spreaker.

But, if you don’t have an hour available right now, we wanted to provide a few golden nuggets from the conversation you can enjoy immediately.

Why Product Management is Like Being a Baseball Umpire

If you are now, or ever have been, a product manager, you’ll instantly appreciate Anne’s take on that challenging position:

“I used to umpire baseball and being an umpire is a lot like being a product manager, Kirk, because you’ve got to make a call based on what you think is right. You’re going to look, you’re going to take in the environment around you, you’re going to try to understand what’s going on and then you have to make a call. And in umpiring, no matter what call you make, whether you’re right or wrong, you’re gonna piss off half the people.”

Truer words were never said. The product manager’s role is a tough one, and it takes a special person with the right combination of hard and soft skills to make those tough calls consistently and effectively deal with the consequences of doing so. But, when it’s done right, it’s an incredibly rewarding position as well.

Former Customer or Former Engineer — Which Makes the Better Product Manager?
Anne goes into depth during the interview about her path to product management and, eventually, coaching product managers and other agile professionals. She moved into product management after years of experience as a front-end developer, so she brought a backlog of keen technical knowledge and insight to the role that served her well when dealing with her product teams and maintaining the integrity of the codebase.

Many people come to product management from a different angle, however: as former customers within the industry the product is being developed to serve. What are the pros and cons? Anne acknowledges, “they have been the customer, so they have more empathy for the customer.” This can be a powerful source of insight and motivation for a product team. But, the potential downside is a sort of confirmation bias that can creep in based on experience that ages daily:

“Personally, I felt that not having that personal experience (in the customer role) caused me to listen more. It caused me to learn more because it was the only way I was going to be able to gain that perspective. I also didn’t as much fall into the trap of, ‘well, when I did this job, this is what I would want,’ while my relevant experience (as a customer) was 10 years old.”

That being said, Product Managers with a development history can run into internal challenges that spring from that technical leaning:

“I would say it did hurt me professionally at times, though. I was seen by other product leaders or superiors of mine as being too sympathetic to engineering. Too technical, too tactical, too sympathetic to engineering, or getting bullied by them.”

In the end, a balanced mix of skills is what builds the most effective product management teams:

“I tell (the CEOs and VPs I consult with now) to create a product management team that has that full stack of skills. Don’t hire all the same people: all the ones that are just like you were, everyone strategic or everyone technical… They need to complement each other and have that full stack of skills.”

Other highlights we’re sure you’ll enjoy:

A proven, effective method for determining what to build, what order to build it in, and whether those decisions are having the intended impact on the market.

How to identify and breakdown departmental silos that can hinder the effectiveness of product teams.

Why a product mindset trumps a project mindset in truly agile organizations.

Why speaking about agility is more effective than discussing Agile.

How to avoid “that’s not my problem” thinking.

Product Manager as Influencer and Storyteller.

… and much more!

We’re sure you’ll enjoy the full interview. Click above to listen now or download it for your ride home. And, for more helpful content geared toward Product Management and strategy, here are some past articles and other resources you can explore.

Anne Steiner
Anne Steiner
VP Product Agility, Cprime