Product Management is a Team Sport

BY MARTIN ERIKSSON ON APRIL 27, 2015

Product Management Tactics ChalkboardIn my post what is a product manager, I define that person as the intersection of UX, business and technology. Many have misunderstood that to mean product managers are superior to those teams. Other product management definitions often fall back on the “product manager is the CEO of their product” trope. Both of these views fundamentally misunderstand the role and – worse – set any product manager following them up for failure.

A better analogy would be to see the product manager as the conductor of an orchestra – or the quarterback in a game of football. Like the conductor or quarterback, the product manager is an individual who only succeeds by bringing the whole team along with them, and by working together towards a common goal.

Leader, not manager

In almost every organisation product managers have no direct authority over engineers, designers, marketers or any other members of the product team. This oversight of organisational theory may seem like a bad thing on the face of it, but I disagree. It forces product managers to exercise true leadership, and not to manage by authority alone.

The product manager’s job, therefore, is not to manage people, nor to direct them, but to lead them by clearly articulating the common goal. They should provide the context the team is working in – from the problems and pain points customers have, to the competitive environment the company is operating in.

Rich Mironov has a great post for product managers on leadership in the absence of authority.

Focus on the problem

I’ve said this before, but it’s imperative that product managers focus on the problem, not the solution. By focusing on the problem you’re trying to solve, you get much closer to the customers’ true needs and can bring a wealth of information back to the team to design a solution with.

Stop, collaborate and listen

True leadership recognises that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. Being dictatorial and enforcing your own product ideas is never going to be as productive or successful as bringing together the whole team, from design and engineering to sales and marketing. The product manager’s job is to bring the user problems to the team, and then facilitate the conversations and help connect the dots as the whole team designs the solutions to them.

Engineers are creative problem solvers too

It’s so incredibly valuable to involve the whole team and their diverse mindsets and experience when designing solutions, that it would simply be foolish not to. Every job in a tech company is an inherently creative role, whether it’s obvious (designers) or not (engineers). Some of the best product solutions I’ve worked on have come from engineers who have such a good understanding of the problem space (thanks to me, can I pat myself on the back now?) and an inherent grasp of the opportunity space afforded by the technology stack, that finding quick, elegant solutions to customer needs becomes second nature.

Everyone owns the product

The bottom line is that everyone in the company owns the product, and its success or failure lie in the hands of everyone who touches it. A product manager’s job is to lead the team to tackle the product challenges together, to get the best out of everyone on the team when building the product, and to provide a gentle hand to keep it all consistent and going in the right direction.

Do you agree? How do you exercise leadership day-to-day? Let us know in the comments.

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Martin Eriksson

About MARTIN ERIKSSON

Martin Eriksson has 20+ years experience building world-class online products in both corporate and start-up environments for global brands such as Monster, Financial Times, Huddle, and Covestor. He is the Founder of ProductTank, the Co-Founder and Curator of Mind the Product, and an Executive in Residence at leading private equity and venture capital fund EQT. He is also the author of best-seller Product Leadership, How Top Product Leaders Launch Great Products and Build Successful Teams (O'Reilly, 2017).