In the last blog, we talked about working in the model where you are a product manager working on a single product that has multiple teams. Now, it’s time to up the ante and look at the case where you are a single product leader who is responsible for many products being worked on by many teams.
First off, congratulations! You have officially made it to the big time. You are a product line manager, a VP of Product Management, or maybe even the Chief Product Officer (CPO) for your company. Once you finish the bottle of champagne celebrating your promotion, buckle your seatbelt because some stuff is about to get real.
You, my friend, are now the adult in the room, and everything you had to do before in terms of influencing, deciding, and advocating just got a lot more complex. Now, instead of working to influence senior product leaders and the technology group, you are hands on with sales, finance, the executive team (who may be your peers), marketing, and more. You are in a strategic role in the company and have a ton of perceived power, but in most scenarios you still have to fall back on your influencing and advocating abilities in order to advance your product line. You must work in concert with other department leaders, and possibly for the first time you are now responsible for a P&L (or share ownership for one with other execs).
Just in case that wasn’t enough to keep you out of trouble, you are now a legit people manager, leading an organization of product managers. In a lot of cases, this is a new challenge and one that is vital to not be overlooked. You managed small teams of 2-3 people before, but now you are leading a much larger group that has vast influence throughout the entire company. Your team may not be large in number, but it has a tremendous responsibility. Your team is also likely a diverse group of strong-willed people, who won’t be the easiest to lead.
When it comes to influencing, deciding, and advocating, your viewpoint has up-leveled from the product perspective to the business perspective. This is a huge shift. It was easier before when we were just trying to keep the screaming customers somewhat happy. Now, we need to make money, look after the needs and interests of your people, and wrangle all the other groups that contribute to your product line’s success.
Product Management Struggles and Traps
You will spend a lot of time influencing up and influencing across. It will be consuming. You are now playing politics about 80% of your time. It is mentally and emotionally draining. Some cope by playing high-stakes politics; some retract into their own space trying to ignore the noise, and some crack under the pressure of trying to satisfy so many interests while trying to maintain their integrity and represent the best interest of the business.
While all of that work and games are going on, don’t forget to also lead your team and look out for their welfare. In the end, they will control you and your product line’s success. If they are breaking, you will be breaking soon too.
|Business vs. strategy vs. people||You have to balance “making money now” versus “making money later” versus “taking care of people” within your company
|Falling asleep or falling too far into the weeds. Dude, seriously get out of the weeds!||Your game has been elevated a lot, but a part of you still wants to decide what color the buttons should be on the UI.
|Playing too much politics or not enough||For good or bad, 90% of your job is now politics. Maybe a better word is gamesmanship. Regardless of what you call it, you better be good at it, but don’t let it consume you.
Winning in this senior role is staying sane and continuing to do the right thing. You will be faced with so many difficult choices. Respect the business, help to drive the company forward, and don’t forget the people who got you where you are and where you will soon be.
Also, look after for yourself. You are an amazing leader and influencer, or you wouldn’t be here. Burnout is a real issue in all levels of product management, but people in these senior roles will feel the worst of it.
I recently spoke with a product manager who walked away from a CPO position that most of us would dream of having. I’ve had the pleasure of working with him as a peer and working for him as a junior product manager. He is one of the best in the business. He left this dream role because he felt he could no longer take care of his people. I can’t tell you how much I respect that, but how sad it makes me that the ranks of product management lost another good one.
I think we need to find a way to look out for each other more. I started this blog series by talking about a group of product managers in Minneapolis that regularly meet and exchange ideas. I hope all of you can find a group like that – a safe place where you can dish about the challenges we face.
In conclusion, your job is a tough but vital one. You are doing important work and regardless of where you sit in the food chain, you have a tremendous opportunity to influence, decide, and advocate. Keep flying superheroes. Your product’s future depends on you.