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Axiom: A item is made by persons betting on priorities adhering to an agreed-upon approach.

In actuality, the three components contained in this axiom are necessary to realize success in any management position. This write-up zooms in on merchandise progress, as I will concentration on true-daily life experiences and normal cases in the solution management planet.

Products professionals at the specific contributor level (such as Apprentice Product or service Managers) are both gamers (in the merchandise staff, normally by way of the triad/trifecta of product/eng/UX) and managers. They have a ton of impact on people (their workforce) and processes, when their primary obligation is prioritizing the team’s endeavours. 

At a lot more superior amounts, the prioritization endeavours just take precedence. The product or service leader manages direct and oblique stories and is accountable for extra and extra team outcomes. Nonetheless, the Men and women, Precedence, Method design remains usable and valid at any stage of seniority as a mental framework. 

Listed here is a Venn diagram illustration of the a few ideas: Men and women, Precedence, and Approach.

People

I sincerely consider this is the most significant predictor of good results for any team. Obtaining the right persons in the right seat is specifically very important for products groups that rely on a loosely coupled matrix of men and women reporting to different managers (Item, UX, Engineering). 

To thrive, you will not want geniuses, Ph.Ds, and 10X folks. You want the right folks in the right seat.

To make certain your group is nicely-appointed, below are the most widespread applications you can use:

  • Mature your staff: Perform 1:1s, craft progress, vocation progress, coaching, and so forth.
  • Redefine roles & responsibilities: This can be completed inside your division or globally. Be watchful mainly because, when a new organizational layout is powerful, redefining roles is challenging to grasp, and faults tend to be high-priced and very long-long lasting.
  • Inside mobility: If anyone does not in shape in your staff, support them come across another role in the enterprise. If you imagine another person from an additional team would make your staff a lot more powerful and remarkable, make it simple for this particular person to be part of your workforce.
  • Fire individuals: Use the a few strikes rule. As soon as you have experimented with a few moments and have been radically candid and express with the man or woman, it is time to permit them go. When you have designed this conclusion, act promptly and with empathy whilst pursuing your organization’s process (PIP, etcetera).
  • Hire people today: This is only out there when your merchandise place or corporation grows. If this is not probable for your workforce: master to do a lot more with much less and implement the initially products in this list. Developing your staff, redefining roles, enabling inside mobility, and firing useless excess weight should really enable you to employ the service of anyone that will triumph and make an affect.

People: Symptoms that you’re profitable

  • Folks from other departments/company models want to perform in your group (inner mobility).
  • Group spirit and morale is large and people are possessing enjoyment working alongside one another.
  • Workforce customers are vulnerable and share their mistakes and learnings with retrospectives, and the crew regularly displays, learns, and adapts.
  • Hazard-getting happens consistently.
  • You receive constructive suggestions from other team(s)/department(s) for the work ethic and initiatives of your team customers.
  • Group associates are intrinsically inspired you only have to guideline, highlight great conduct, and perform a coaching purpose.
  • Conversation is easy—it is Okay to discussion, disagree and commit.
  • Folks on the team organize a virtual or in-person gathering when a person is leaving.

Men and women: Symptoms that you’re shedding

  • Good people are leaving the crew, no matter if as a result of inner mobility, involuntary or voluntary attrition.
  • Crew adopts quite conservative aims or the group is risk-averse.
  • Group morale is very low.
  • You have to regularly obstacle the crew to adopt formidable or risky aims and goals.
  • Teams do only particularly what they are advised to do with really restricted initiative.
  • You have one particular or more individuals on the workforce with performance difficulties, be it negative opinions, resistance to coaching, or a individual improvement strategy.
  • Conversation is tough, debates are unheard of or unproductive.

Priorities

The priority part is the just one intently related with the item manager’s craft. In typical, the products firm is liable for the prioritization efforts—such as the roadmap, betting table, 6 week cycles, et cetera.

While it appears basic on paper, true existence is ordinarily a great deal messier simply because the capacity to prioritize is dependent tremendously on the tactic and business enterprise context, this sort of as the stock trajectory, funding events, pandemic, financial downturn, and the multitude of other variables that participate in a role. Loads of these are outside the house of the regulate zone of product administrators.

From private working experience:

  • Smaller sized constructions are inclined to have no strategy or a extremely undefined a person. It was perhaps worthless even though the staff was <10–20 people, but by the time a product manager joins, it is necessary to have a strategy to empower teams to make excellent, and high-quality decisions. Play a leading role and write the strategy down for your group, product area, and organization.
  • Larger structures may have a high-level strategy that is, in practice, useless for your team: you will need to fill the gaps and translate the strategy into product principles that are meaningful for the product teams you are working with. You must validate these principles with the stakeholders before you can own any prioritization efforts.

A team without priorities behaves erratically and has almost no impact. Why? Because every player is playing for its benefit (local optimization) and is ignoring the big picture (global optimization). Citing my former CEO Karen Baker here: 

Nothing is worse than a team running around like chickens with no head.

While this is a bloody analogy, I believe it makes a lot of sense.

As a Product Manager/Leader, this is your core responsibility! You have to make every effort to accomplish something meaningful for the business at the global level. Your primary tool to align teams is the prioritization of efforts.

Priorities: Signs that you’re winning

  • Everyone on the team has a good-enough understanding of the high-level company strategy and can connect the dots with their own priorities.
  • Team members refer to the priorities when making decisions.
  • Team members say no to each other and to stakeholders when proposals are not aligned with the priorities.
  • Priorities do not change at every sprint. 80% of the priorities remain stable for 6 weeks to a quarter, depending on your prioritization process.
  • Retrospectives consider the priorities and look back to check if we have met our goals or not.

Priorities: Sign that you’re losing

  • Highest Paid Person Opinion (HIPPO) syndrome. The team(s) do not decide—everyone waits for the highest-paid person to decide. If you lead multiple PMs, this person may well be you! As a rule of thumb, you should not decide for your team but try to fix the root cause of this problem.
  • Decisions are made ad-hoc, seldomly documented without any framework or reference to your company or team priorities.
  • Everything is urgent and vital—reactivity is the driving force. When the CEO, a VP, or a customer is angry, then we do something. Otherwise…we wait.
  • Priorities change every week. If your priorities change often, everyone will stop paying attention to any framework, including strategy/mission/vision/roadmap types of frameworks.

Process/Agile Rituals

In the world of Agile, processes have bad press and are perceived as negative/unnecessary. If you work in such an organization, don’t despair: focus on the rituals. Rituals can be seen as a function to implement a process. Change your viewpoint and language, then go improve your rituals!

Processes can be documented or undocumented. They can also be deeply ingrained at the organizational level—at this point, we just call them “culture.” They are notoriously hard to change globally without using authority, and even then, it will take a long time to have everyone adopt a new process. However, they are quite easy to change locally. 

If you have no authority on other crafts or teams (which is the case for most product managers), your primary way to change a process is to propose changes as an experiment within your direct team. Lead by example and demonstrate the value of the processes you own so that others can now trust you to help them improve the processes they are responsible for. Think locally so that you can have a global impact via a series of successful experiments.

Process: Signs That You’re Winning

  • Reporting is high-quality, clear and consistent inside the team as well as along the hierarchy, all the way up to the CEO.
  • Escalation is working well, and stakeholders are not surprised by crucial decisions.
  • Teams decide when to change the process, not the management.
  • The team has solid rituals & tools that are stable over time.
  • The team systematically measures success or failure and shares their findings.
  • The team delivers the quality experiences they agreed to ship.
  • You can move and iterate fast, though what “fast” looks like depends greatly on your industry and company size.

Process: Signs That You’re Losing

  • The team does not spend time improving their rituals/process/tools.
  • Onboarding is slow/burdensome/costly for new employees. They have a hard time understanding how the company works, and nobody can tell them!
  • No consistent and shared learning loops—in particular, few retrospectives, root cause analyses, five whys, or other learning mechanisms.
  • Processes start and stop at the department’s limits: Prod/UX/Eng/Data/Marketing. A good product requires a great holistic user experience. To deliver this experience, the same team has to be involved from ideation to delivery, adoption and growth.
  • Your organization uses unusually complex processes/toolkits/stacks/information systems for the industry you are in. However, it bears noting that heavily-regulated industries (healthcare, banking/finance, security, et cetera) inherently require more processes than non-regulated ones.

What should you fix first?

Why Start with People?

I would argue here that you should always work your way through the pyramid in this order: 

  1. People
  2. Priorities
  3. Process

This approach relies on two well-known frameworks:

  1. Agile: The first tenets of the Agile Manifesto states: “People and their interactions over process and tools.”
  2. Modern product development: the organization expresses a “commander’s intent” and defines a priority so that the team can own the problem space, discover problems/solutions and make progress toward the desired goal(s) and outcome(s).

Start in your own house:

In my experience, having a conflictual relationship with a report that lasts for more than 3 months will consume most of your energy, prevent you and your team from having a significant impact and negatively impact all your other reports, as you will be less available and negatively impacted by the situation.

You have to get each of your reports on the right seat, both for them and for the company. This is hard emotional work that you must work on as soon as you get into a management position. Trying to shy away from it will only lead to disaster, regret, and terrible outcomes for all the involved parties.

What about people I don’t manage directly?

If you manage managers or if you depend on other managers (say UX and Engineering), then you have a similar problem whether or not this individual is your direct report. Product management is a team sport, not an individual gig. 

Consider a sports team analogy: multiple coaches are responsible for different aspects of the game. For instance, in rugby, you have a lot of coaches: a forward coach, a back coach, an offensive coach, a defensive coach, a kicking coach, a mental coach, etc. However, even with all these resources available, a people problem can derail the best possible team! It is your responsibility as a manager (especially as you become more senior) to do something about it and ensure that everyone on your product team(s) is the right person in the right seat—no exceptions.

Once you have decided that this person is a problem and is not in the right seat, use the feedback loops that most organizations have built: impact review, 360 reviews, and solicited or unsolicited feedback. In other words, express yourself and signal what you consider a significant “people problem” to this person’s manager. This is especially important if it hinders the team’s performance. The same is true if you receive complaints about your reports!

Why Priorities before Process?

If you can not establish a vision/mission for your team and then get it endorsed by your organization’s CEO, trying to change the processes in a meaningful way will bear little benefits to your team(s).

Why? If a few HIPPO are calling all the shots, this is the process. Changing this process requires alignment with the stakeholders to come up with a different prioritization framework. Start at the root cause of the problem, not on the consequences.

You will need to do extra work to reach a point where you get strong alignment and trust from the HIPPO—this is high-leverage and high-impact work. Don’t hire a consultant, don’t try to outsource this, but instead use your product knowledge and leadership to get there as fast as you can.

At a certain point, if you can not define measurable, clear-cut priorities, and if the HIPPO process is the one in use, I would argue that the product management function is not required. In Marty Cagan terminology, this is a “feature factory,” and a wind that you can not measure decides where the team is going next. You should either implement a prioritization process, or find another company.

Impact on Outcomes

This simple framework (Product = People + Priority + Process) is quite robust and works at any seniority level. It will help you elevate the debate and identify at which level you or your team are experiencing problems. It is especially useful:

  • When you join a new organization or when you set up the product function
  • When you or stakeholders are not pleased with your team(s) performance
  • To improve the outcome of any team

The proposed approach will also help you avoid typical mistakes like:

  • Trying to fix a People’s problem with Process changes
  • Trying to define the perfect system (Process) while Priorities are changing every week based on various HIPPOs’ opinion
  • Provide consistent perspective to your team by reframing discussions and goals with your reports or teammates

By applying the People-Priority-Process framework consistently, you will have a unique point of view that enables you to have dispassionate conversations about any problem you want to fix at any level—with your teammates, stakeholders, leads and up to the CEO.



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