Discover more from How to Be a Product Leader & Other Product Stories
Issue #22: Empowering Product Managers, Influencing Company Culture, & This Week's Roundup
This week's buzzwords and how they apply to real life
Hola friends! 👋
This week’s thoughts and feelings include:
I’m super over the moon when people share with me how much my posts have resonated with them.
A subscriber (and a friend: hi Tarra!) shared this photo with me. My words are now post-it quotes on a wall!!! 😱 How cool is that?!
If you liked How to Be a Product Leader & Other Stories, help me spread the word!
01 Empowering Product Managers and their Teams
…Is a loaded sentence. What does “Empower” even mean?
During the earliest days of my Head of Product Role, I had a new problem almost every single day. But the ones that really made it difficult to sleep at night were the ones about “overlapping products” and all the feelings that came with it. A result of a company merging and having different teams come together under my organization.
Team A - has been validating MVP of a positive scoring solution Team B - has been socializing a lot the idea of negative scoring solution Team C - has a general scoring solution but unsure how they can work with the other teams
What happens next is a sequence of events and feelings:
The teams were not happy with the overlaps. Team B has a particularly strong feeling that they have ownership of the solution (regardless of the state of it).
The PMs try to clarify the differences, but it wasn’t enough. And they, themselves, have doubts about the boundaries.
Team C is frustrated that nobody’s working with them.
There’s a Team D and E and thank the universe they were not part of this unfolding situation.
To be honest, at first, I felt like a deer in the headlights. My initial thoughts included:
(Deny the problem) Technically the overlap does not exist if the solution only exists in a deck. 🤷♀️
(It’s a YOU problem)Focus on the problem! It’s too big to be solved by one solution alone. There are plenty of ideas to go around. We just need some creativity. 👩🏫
(It’s a real problem but I don’t know what to do) What am I doing? 🙈
At some point, my Engineering and Data counterparts told me to just make a decision for the team, tell team A to forget about their solution and that was that.
But I was pretty sure that was not the right approach. Also, why were we all ganging up on Team A? I think also I told them, “We can’t just put everything in Team B. You should also tell your reports from Team B to stop complaining” (not my most mature moment, I admit 😅)
So I took a step back and tried to understand what was causing this situation. And I came to a few conclusions:
We had a vision but our product strategy was fluffy or just plain bad. The teams were not clear on how they were going to contribute to the strategy so they all held on to their solutions that felt more obvious to have an impact.
There was a lack of understanding and trust between the teams. They didn’t understand what the others were doing and for what so they made conclusions at face value. And since they saw things to be similar, it felt like a competition.
We were a new team who didn’t know how to work together or knew what that even meant. We were in a new context and there were no mechanisms nor clear expectations in place for this to actually happen.
So if I decided for them on the boundaries, I will be just treating the symptom. But not the problem.
So what did I do? Many things. But not by myself. I worked with the Product Managers.
We talked about our portfolio of Products. Together we reviewed our Product Strategy. It’s been a few months since we first had it anyway. So together we talked about how they interpreted it, their challenges to deliver against it, etc.
We talked about our team. Which was for me, my biggest action. To set clear expectations on how I would want them to be working together, emphasizing that we are a team now. And for me, that meant:
that to have a strong impact, we need to create an ecosystem.
that to be a successful team, we need to start working together.
that to be strong product people, we need to be able to rely on each other to fill in our gaps and not compete in an imaginary race.
My vision was that “individually our products were good” but “together our products were a perfect system”
So what happened?
From the vision I shared, the PMs took the lead themselves.
They shared their strategies and roadmaps with each other. They gave feedback on so many aspects: Where they found a connection, where they found a potential overlap, and even better, where they saw some opportunities - not for themselves, but for one another.
Of course, it wasn’t a change from one day to another. There were also things that I needed to put in place. Like some processes to actually facilitate these kinds of conversations.
But with our strategy reinforced and my expectations towards them made clear, the outcomes were easier to work on.
And about the overlap between Team A, B, and C?
The 3 Product Managers got together to draw their own boundaries, define their next steps, and plan how to communicate their decisions to their teams.
I’ve never heard about this ~Problem since then.
The Impact on myself (as a Bonus)
To be honest, it would have been easy to just draw boundaries between the teams myself. To just tell them what to do (or what not to do).
Because that’s what most books about strategy say. And also the people pleaser in me was dying from all the unhappy feedback from my team (and theirs) and my peers.
But to do so also meant I would have gone against the things that were also important for me such as:
To have a team who are confident to make their own decisions. And felt safe if those decisions were wrong.
To have a team who solved problems with conversations and not escalations.
And I wanted to become a leader who empowered exactly just that.
The books and the best practices will tell us to have a vision for our Product. They will tell us how to create a good Product Strategy.
But the books and the best practices do not tell us to also create a vision for ourselves or for our teams. Much less how to get there in a way that’s aligned with our values. That’s why sometimes it can feel scary because it can feel like we’re going against the right thing to do.
But what is the right thing to do anyway? Of course, it’s the one that creates results. But I also think it’s the one that feels good for us. The one that feels authentic.
There’s no template or checklist or chart for this. We have to create our own.
02 Influencing Company Behavior (FAKs or Folks.Ask.Kax)
A new section where a reader asks me a question and I share my answer here
Hey Kax! One thing I’m battling with is my organisation seems to have an obsession with creating “decks” for everything. We are constantly making and iterating on slides - often more focused on layout and making a great presentation rather than focusing on how to make decisions and move quickly. Any tips on changing this behaviour?
😂 As a good Product Person, my first answer to this is “It Depends”.
🤣 As a coach, my succeeding answers are more questions:
A. Why is creating decks important for your organization?
There’s always a reason behind every action. Understanding what people/leaders/processes are optimizing for can help us get to the root of this problem.
Is there a template for these slides? Maybe because the process wants to ensure that important information is not forgotten in the decks as people were prone to do before.
Who is the audience for these decks? Do these decks get shared straight with the board? Maybe the layout is a way to help keep the structure consistent for branding purposes or to make sure that people outside of the team are able to understand the content.
Put on your product hat and get into digging into what’s the real problem to solve.
B. How is this delaying decisions and action?
You’re speaking of impact in this case. Do you have evidence? Has there been an incident where, because of the preparation that goes behind making decks, there’s been a delay on decisions that have impacted a launch, the team, or the business? Is the impact big?
Putting evidence on the table can help you and the people around you align on whether or not this culture of creating decks is a real problem to solve.
C. And is this (#2) a shared feeling across the organization?
Are there other people who are feeling the negative impact of this deck culture?
If yes, then have conversations with these people and come together for an alternative way. That still solves the root/original problem and will have a positive impact on all of you.
If not, and nobody else is feeling the negative impact - then there are 2 things you can do:
Share new ideas that solve the root/original problem AND not have a high cost for people who need to change their process
Be prepared to not change this behavior at all.
There are probably more questions important to answer. But to sum up, put on your product hat and investigate the real problem that this process is trying to solve. Bring data to the table and see if this process is really as costly and painful as you think it is, and for the people that you say it impacts. Then get solutioning. :)
But influence is always stronger when you have allies. So don’t forget to go forth and find them.
Are you subscribed yet?
03 The Weekly Round-up
And an HBR article on How to Increase Your Influence
But before you go!
Are you struggling with your job search right now? Your application is being ignored? You get feedback along the lines of “We’re just looking for somebody with more experience”. Get my ULTIMATE GUIDE for creating a Sustainable Job Search system for the Modern Product Manager. And get cracking with 10% OFF.
But the practicalities of creating a system are easy. The real work is in letting yourself own your achievements and expertise, in getting over your impostor syndrome and being assertive with your value, and in overcoming your own self-limiting beliefs and being ready to STAND OUT AND SHINE and let other people see you for the kick-ass Product Manager that you are. And I’m here for that. If this resonated, let’s dig into that together.
Fintech products have always been a different animal for me. More than compliance, there’s a different set of psychology to understand. So if you’re in Fintech and you’ve been looking for a course to use your Personal Development budget with - Irrational Labs Behavioral Economics Program could be a good one to check out. (Use KAXUSON for a $50 discount)
If you’re enjoying this newsletter, how about sharing this with your friends or anybody else who might enjoy it too?