Product Manager’s Dilemma
The solution lies in the soft skills critical to a product manager’s success.
About the Author: Greg DiCillo is the president and co-founder of Maximal, a consultancy specializing in Industrial Product Management, developer of Maximal Strategist Product Management Software, and an expert in the principles and methodologies of product management. During his career he has managed product lines, instituted product-management processes where none existed, and provided training and consulting services to a diverse group of manufacturing and service companies, middle-market to Fortune 500. Here, he brings you windows of insight, from over twenty years of experience, into the dynamic and complex role of the product manager.
Your product manager is, by nature, one of the most omniscient members of your business community. Like a CEO, the product manager has a bird’s-eye view of your company and your market. The role of a product manager is to take this birds-eye view, and put it to work in planning and strategy. This planning considers heavily both the marketing aspects of your product line and the company’s capabilities. In order to do this your product manager is managing a complex set of activities coming in from every direction, leading people in a number of different departments towards a common goal. They’re doing all this with one major limitation—they don’t control the resources of the company.
If you’re asking, “How can my product managers be owners, planners, marketers, strategists and leaders when they don’t actually control the resources at their disposal?” then you’ve just uncovered one of the most defining aspects of product management and why it is so tricky: “The Product Manager’s Dilemma.”
The Product Manager’s Dilemma is the realization that product managers have responsibility and accountability for the success of the product line but have little or no authority over the resources that are ultimately needed to be successful. It is the reason that credibility and influence are as important as any and all technical or product expertise for a product manager.
Product managers are not CEOs in a literal sense, even though we encourage them to behave as entrepreneurs and business leaders in their role. The product manager’s dilemma is how to get what they need from the organization when they don’t have the authority to force decisions that are favorably biased towards their view of the marketplace.
So the product manager has power in a limited sense, but does not have the authority to move the resources of the larger organization. Despite being in charge of the product line, these managers rarely have the final say or immediate authority to make wholesale changes, and so they must be capable of making recommendations and confident enough to defend them. That means product managers must be credible, and credibility comes from self- confidence, knowledge, preparedness and the ability to effectively influence decisions and communicate strategy.
Credibility and influence are as important as any and all technical or product expertise for a product manager.”Greg DiCillo, President | Maximal
Unfortunately, not enough emphasis is placed on developing these attributes. As a result, even product managers that are strong technically and responsible for large product lines are limited in their effectiveness because they are incapable or fearful of making recommendations with any conviction.
Overcoming the Dilemma
Much of the credibility a product manager has or does not have is based in the substance of their recommendations. To achieve the level of credibility that a product manager needs to effectively manage their product lines, they must communicate and procure the resources they require to be successful. They have to overcome the product manager’s dilemma. The key to overcoming the product manager’s dilemma is to develop five influencing techniques:
- Expertise—The best way for a product manager to establish credibility is to become the expert in their markets. The real value a product manager brings to an organization is the understanding of the needs and wants of the markets. The true measure of credibility comes when people within the organization come to the product manager for their advice.
- Leadership—Product managers are champions of the product line and, as such, must always be out front. They must engage and collaborate with their stakeholders, but as the leader of the product line they must be accountable for the decisions and the outcomes. Credibility comes from standing up for what they believe to be true and the courage of their convictions when making decisions and recommendations.
- Idea Generation—Product managers must be capable of generating ideas. If they are truly experts in their fields, they will know the needs of the markets they serve and have ideas for how to best position their products. Going into meetings with a blank sheet of paper just doesn’t help a product manager’s credibility.
- Relationship-Building—An effective product manager knows how to build bridges with the other functional areas in order to get things done. A product manager who is incredibly savvy in business can’t get anywhere without the ability to win friends across departments. The product manager needs everyone in the organization to perform if they expect to succeed.
- Planning—Credible product managers work with short-term and long-term plans as their guides. This allows them to effectively navigate through the constant bombardment of ideas, requests and issues that they deal with each day. It allows them to make decisions and recommendations in a more timely fashion and with more confidence.
Product managers who hone these techniques will be much more likely to overcome the product manager’s dilemma. It’s not likely that product managers are ever going to control all the resources required to get the job done. Honing inter-personal skills and enhancing credibility will go a long way towards greater influence and more effective outcomes.
Are You Experiencing Gaps in Your Product Management?
If you suspect your organization has a product management problem, Maximal’s GAP Discovery™ process can help you find your GAP areas, identify ways to fix them, and put your company on the right path to high performance product management.
Maximal Strategist software removes the GAPS typically associated with product management. Help your product managers be more effective in the areas of planning, strategy and marketing. Help your product managers be more effective in the areas of planning, strategy and marketing.
Dominate Your Space: Unleashing the Power of Your Product Managers
By Greg DiCillo
The most crucial component of a company’s success is delivering new and better products—yet one of the most common factors for failure is under-utilizing or misunderstanding the role of product management. Dominate Your Space: Unleashing the Power of Your Product Managers explains the essentials for building and sustaining a high-performance product management team that will oversee all stages of a product’s life cycle and help fuel profits in any economy.