All of these necessary skills are wasted without the ability to motivate and lead the broader team to achieve a common goal.
Product management is both a challenging and rewarding job.
The former stems largely from the fact that as product managers we have a great deal of the responsibility, but little direct authority to achieve the desired result. The latter can be realized by overcoming the challenges through the establishment of trust and leadership.
In the product delivery process, each team member has a well-defined skill set that is oriented at delivering a result within the functional domain—technical writers produce product documentation, software engineers develop software by writing code, and so on.
Product management is different in that its purpose is to work across functions and ensure that everyone is delivering the necessary ingredients to build a whole product that will resonate with the market.
To be sure, other skills are required—multitasking, rapid assimilation and processing of facts, and the ability to make decisions are but a few. However, all of these necessary skills are wasted without the ability to motivate and lead the broader team to achieve a common goal.
When engaging in a project as the “new product manager,” I frequently find that there is an initial level of apprehension on the part of some extended team members. This may be partly a result of having worked with an ineffective product manager in the past. Undoubtedly, the team’s trepidation also stems from standard group dynamics where the assumption is that someone from outside of a given functional domain is working against the interests of that group.
A good product manager will transcend this adversarial reflex by gaining the trust of all extended team members, regardless of role.
So, how does this magic happen? Well, it begins with treating everyone with respect and camaraderie.
This may sound trite, but a visit to someone’s desk to just say “hello” and ask them about their weekend or what they’re working on because you are curious and interested can go a long way to establishing that you’re “OK.” I find that a casual visit with no agenda is so unusual in most high-pressure environments that it can begin establishing trust by the sheer nature of its contrast to the norm. You may not end up being everyone’s best friend—product management is also about managing conflict, after all—but the team members will gain a sense of trust that you are working with them and not against them.
Beyond building positive one-on-one relationships, the effective product manager must also demonstrate leadership across the cross-functional team. To be sure, many books have been written on the subject so it is impossible to capture everything in a single essay. However, at the core of all leadership is communication.
As a product manager, you should take the initiative in establishing and leading regular team meetings so that all extended team members can articulate what they’re working on, hear what others are doing, and identify dependencies and areas for collaboration. Use this forum to encourage cooperation and remind the team what the overarching product vision is in order to avoid “forest and trees” derailments and keep everyone on target. Establishing yourself as a leader by promoting communication will help you to motivate the team without any direct authority.
By approaching team members as fellow human beings and helping to foster communication, you can establish trust and lead the team to effectively ship products—and have some fun at the same time.
To quote an old TV commercial, “Try it, you’ll like it!”