Product Management Rule #21: Define and Align Your Roles and Responsibilities

42 Rules of Product Management

Product Management Rule #21 from the best-selling book, 42 Rules of Product Management, was written by Tom Evans, Principal Consultant, Lûcrum Marketing

As there are many perspectives on the product management role, make sure your definition is aligned with that of your new management team.

One of the great challenges of taking on a new product management role at a company is the many definitions and perspectives of what product management is and what the roles are called. And it doesn’t help that the job description used for the role was probably cut and pasted from somewhere without much thought as to what was really required. Based upon my experience of taking on new product management roles, one important lesson that I learned is to make sure that your understanding of the role and your management’s understanding of the role are well aligned. Any significant misalignment will result in significant frustration and dissatisfaction.

To illustrate with one example, I joined a small technology company as the first product manager ever.

I saw this as a great opportunity to establish and grow the role within the organization. During an early meeting with the CEO, I talked about scheduling some customer visits and his response was, “if you want to learn what our customers need, just ask me.” In his mind, my only job was to write product requirements and there was no need for me to speak with customers, because he already knew it. As I continued to define and grow the product management role, I butted heads far too often with the CEO, and this opportunity turned into a very painful experience. Now this is probably an extreme case of role misalignment, but any major misalignment between you and your management team will most likely turn into a negative experience.

So what can you do to avoid this situation?

As you start interviewing for a new role, enter with a strong definition of what you expect the role to be and discuss this with the interviewing team. If you’re not sure how to do this, start with the foundation you learned in your product management training. Pull out that framework that you have tucked away, build your definition of the role based upon that framework, and then augment that with your past experience of what worked and didn’t work. From this exercise, you should have a pretty good definition of the product management role. Discuss this with everyone you interview with, especially the hiring manager, product management peers and cross-functional peers (engineering, marketing, sales, etc.). This will accomplish two things for you. It will ensure that your vision of the role matches the vision of your management and colleagues. If it doesn’t align, this opens up a good opportunity for a healthy discussion that will help you find a middle ground that meets everyone’s expectations. This discussion will also underscore your depth of knowledge and experience in the product management role and help set you apart.

If you only discover this misalignment once you get into the new role, the first step I recommend is to do what I described above.

Build your definition of the product management role based upon your training and experience and then start discussing it with the management team. You should discover either that they don’t have a full understanding of the role or that you have differing definitions of the role. From my experience, most often the case is that they don’t have a full understanding of the product management role, and this is your opportunity to educate them on what you should be doing and why you should be doing it. Build a plan on how you’ll implement your vision of the role and then execute on it, keeping clear and open communications with management during the full process.

If all of this fails, I highly recommend you start looking for another opportunity, as the current situation can only set you back in your career progression.

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