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Product Management Rule #17: You Do Not Own Your Product

Product Management Rule #17 from the best-selling book, 42 Rules of Product Management, was written by Linda Merrick , Pivotal PM

The difference between leading your product team and owning every aspect of every detail in your product is your level of sanity.

As product managers, we’re encouraged to act as CEOs for our products.

What does that really mean? Many of us believe that it means we should be making all the decisions about our products.

After all, how can you be responsible for its success if you don’t have this authority? But watch your CEO carefully. If the CEO in your company is making all the decisions, then:

  1. You’re not making product decisions anyway, the CEO is; and
  2. this is not a very scalable company.

I’ve seen product managers who want to make all the decisions—and I’ve been one.

We drive ourselves crazy trying to be everywhere at once, wasting emotional energy when decisions are made without us, and creating a huge bottleneck the rest of the time.

Successful leaders at all levels know that collaborative decision making is more effective than top-down mandates.

Here are my top rules about facilitating product decisions:

  • Define the right criteria for the decision. This is the key to the product manager’s role in decision making. Work with your team to make sure you understand what will influence their decision and what data they need to see.
  • Get all points of view on the table.
    Even if the decision made doesn’t favor a particular view, at least that input gets acknowledged.
  • Think through the implications (strategic, financial, tactical/logistics) from each perspective you’ve heard.
  • In most decisions, some stakeholders will hold a larger or more critical stake than others. Make sure you identify the key stakeholders to the team. Get them to provide data and do your own research to provide any missing data.
  • Present data and other facts to the team, in context of the strategy and financials.
  • Look to your key stakeholders to propose solutions and ask for the team’s support. You can also propose your own solution.
  • Map out a Plan B and help your team understand how you will determine if the recommended approach is working (or not), and how you will transition to Plan B if needed.
  • Ask for support. You’ll likely find that even those who don’t agree with the recommended decision will go along with it. They’ve had a chance to provide input, they understand which functional group has the most at stake, they’ve seen the supporting data, and they know how the team will take corrective action if needed.

NOTE: There may be times when your team turns to you to and asks you to make the decision.

When they ask, do it.

But still follow the process above so that you have good information as the basis for your decision, and as much buy-in as possible.

What if a functional group needs to make a decision relating to your product and can’t bring it to you or the team? If they know your strategy, they’ll be much more likely to make the right decision.

Collaborative decision making is just plain smart. Why forgo the incredible amount of experience and expertise on your cross-functional team? Leverage it and your product will be well on its way to success. And your life will be a lot less crazy.

Product Management Rule #17 from the best-selling book, 42 Rules of Product Management

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