#1 Secret Weapon Of A Successful Product Manager

by drjim on December 2, 2008

Product Mangers Have A Secret Weapon That Can Make Them More Successful

Product Mangers Have A Secret Weapon That Can Make Them More Successful

Being a Product Manager is hard work, being a successful product manager is even harder. Wouldn’t we all like to have a secret weapon that would allow us to cut through all of the roadblocks that others seem to be constantly throwing up all around us?

Just imagine if there was some way to get everyone to actually do what they have promised that they would do. Wouldn’t that at least be a step in the right direction? We’ve talked in the past about other powerful tools that all product managers have at their disposal, but I’ve been saving the best for now.

It is a simple and perhaps sad fact of modern business life that nobody (including you) has enough time to get everything done anymore. What this means is that actions that people agreed to do during meetings, requests that you’ve made, and pleas that you’ve sent via email will probably mostly get ignored.

Yes, there is a possibility that people aren’t doing what you need them to do because they don’t like you. However, to not like someone takes energy so it’s more likely that people are probably blowing you off because they’ve got too much other higher priority work that needs to be done. Sorry, you lose.

This should be a big deal to you. The modern product manager really does not create anything – instead we work with and through others to get things done. Our dirty little secret is that nobody works for us and so we really don’t have any authority to demand that things get done. Instead, we can only ask. That phrase “all the responsibility, none of the authority” was really created for us.

It’s almost enough to make a hard working product manger throw his/her hands up in the air and give up. But wait – before you do that, I’ve got good news for you – there is a secret weapon that you can use to make your life better.

This secret weapon is called “the follow-up”. No, wait – don’t stop reading now! Trust me on this one, the follow-up has the ability to change your life (I know this because it changed my life). The reason that I like to call this a secret weapon is because amazingly enough it really does seem to be a secret – almost nobody else is using it!

Here’s a typical scenario that this secret weapon can come into play in: you attend a meeting, a discussion occurs, actions are created and assigned, the meeting is over and everyone leaves. All too often, that’s it – nobody ever follows up on those actions. This means that the same topics will be revisited in another meeting, more actions will be assigned, and those actions won’t be followed-up on either. And so on, and so on.

As a product manager with your new follow-up secret weapon, you can take charge of the actions that you care about. Make sure that each of them has a clear owner before the meeting breaks up. Also make sure that each action has an associated due date. Once this is done, you need to make yourself a “follow-up checklist”.

This checklist will tell you who you need to hound in order to make sure that they complete their actions on time. This list will grow once you start including outstanding emails on it. How many times have you sent an email with a question to someone and then forgotten about it (and they have too!)? Not any more, now when you send that email w/ a question, add it to your follow-up checklist.

What’s going to happen is very quickly you are going to take on the demeanor of a bulldog in your work environment. People are going to start to realize that when you are promised information, you are not going to let up until you get it. This means that the people who owe you info will move it up their priority list.

Yes, I know that this sounds like a very simple secret weapon; however, it’s power is not to be underestimated. Give it a try and I think that you’ll be pleased with the results.

Do you have trouble getting coworkers to provide you with the information and answers that you need? Do actions that get assigned during meetings get answered or do they get forgotten? Have you ever asked a question in an email that didn’t get answered and that you then forgot about? Leave me a comment and let me know what you are thinking.

Be Sociable, Share!

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Paco December 4, 2008 at 6:03 pm

This is where a good Project Manager (aka program manager) really shines. Most effective team structures and software lifecycle methodologies have some role that is responsible for making sure “action items” get assigned and completed. Some decentralize that responsibility to the point where’s the no accountability, and that’s why I prefer to have a dedicated person.

And too often, any action items outside of a single group’s domain are made the responsibility of a Product Manager – after all “you’re like a project manager, right?” And by “outside a single group”, I mean that the sales manager will take care of sales stuff, ditto for engineering, ditto for marketing, etc. But who’s responsible for making sure that marketing and sales get together to work on the product positioning collateral and executive demo? The Product Manager gets stuck being the one who has to make sure all these inter-group tasks get done.

After all, people often take on a shared responsibility, and then when times get tough, they’re happy to jettison their share and leave it all up to the other party. Although, somehow, Product Managers don’t get this magical ability and crap always sticks to us.

I’ve had the pleasure of being on a product team where there was a dedicated Project Manager. And even though she was about 5-feet tall and 100 lbs, she was a freakin’ pitbull. Didn’t matter that she wasn’t “technical” – if there’s something to do, someone who has to do it, and a deadline to do it by, then she’s gonna track it. Marketing activities, code build and merge schedule, user doc review dates – she covered anything and everything.

If you get an action item in a meeting, she’s on you like white on rice to get status updates. And when people drop the ball, it’s screamingly obvious in her status reports to management – and they actually read it!

And even though I shared an office with her, I was not spared from her wrath. Her effectiveness relied on the fact that everyone knew she did her job fairly and thoroughly – nobody was spared.

Having that dedicated Project Manager definitely helped the release succeed and it made my job a helluva lot easier. And ever since then, having a Project Manager is the first thing on my resource wish-list for any product or project I’m working on.

Reply

Dr. Jim Anderson December 4, 2008 at 9:15 pm

Paco: great comment! It’s sorta amazing – the best project managers that I’ve worked with have shared the same physical characteristics that you mention your project manager had – maybe there’s a factory out there somewhere? Having someone accept this responsibility and run with it is a HUGE benefit to a Product Manager. But remember, if you don’t have a dedicated project manager (or if the one that you do have isn’t doing their job), it always comes back to the Project Manger to pick up the ball and do the footwork that action item follow up always seems to require!

Reply

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: