Product Management Rule #30: Agility Is Key to Product Management Success
Product Management Rule #30 from the best-selling book, 42 Rules of Product Management, was written by Matthew Bookspan, Director of Product Management, Voxeo
The two overarching elements for ensuring success are being flexible and having organizational agility.
Many people in our field admit one thing openly: product management is a tough yet very fulfilling job. As a project manager, you serve many masters and have little authority. This can pose challenges, although there are ways to be successful with very little effort on your part.
The two overarching elements for ensuring success are being flexible and having organizational agility. Let’s talk more about these two.
So, What Is Flexibility?
I tend to find that those who can change course easily given a specific (or vague) set of parameters can leverage this flexibility for their product’s advantage.
However, being flexible doesn’t mean caving in to every demand from your respective constituents. Customers, executives, and team members will always demand more of you as they have their respective agendas to fulfill. Thus, know when to flex and when to be firm.
How Do I Discern the Difference between Flexing and Firming?
If there is a primary strength in being flexible, it is the ability to proactively listen and adjust. Being a great product manager means listening without formulating a response prior to the conversation ending. It’s echoing back what you’ve heard so that both (or many) of you are on the same page. Only then are you able to better manage the situation and direct the team to a reasonable answer or conclusion.
Lastly, please note that there is a difference between being flexible and living with ambiguity. The former is about not becoming entrenched in your own beliefs. The latter is about trying to form clarity out of chaos. So, make sure that you understand the difference and that you behave accordingly in the respective situation.
You’ve Walked Me Through Being Flexible; Now Tell Me about Organizational Agility!
Many factors come into play when managing organizational agility. Some pretty straightforward items include: company size, company culture, where you fit into the org chart and how you view your role within the organization (separate from the org chart itself).
You will always have stakeholders making demands of you, and you will most certainly require executive buy-in to move your initiatives forward. However, you also need to know who the other key players in the company are.
It could be a support engineer. It could also be someone in the finance department. It most certainly is any administrative assistant, for, without them, nothing can really get done. Regardless, any one of these people can either help you succeed or fail.
In small to medium organizations, process management can become the biggest challenge. These companies generally are in a new phase of development. It isn’t just about the players anymore; it’s about how you all work together in an efficient manner.
As you move into larger organizations, the dependency chain becomes more diverse and your ability to grow a personal/social network of key players is crucial to making progress on your deliverables. Here, cross-divisional or cross-departmental goals don’t always align, so make sure to have friends in the right places (or have friends of friends).
Going downstream, the final challenge is the startup. Here, there are so few people that ensuring you have strong bonds across all team members is fundamental to success. If the product manager in this type of organization doesn’t have respect, then the outcome is usually pretty dire: no more product manager.
From the department of redundancy department: being flexible and understanding your organization’s specific requirements are key to being a successful product manager.
Understand that flexibility and organizational agility are evolving capabilities. Make sure to grow them wisely and learn from your experiences. And don’t forget to have fun too!