Sorry, Product Managers: We do own the dysfunctions of other teams

DysfunctionContributed by Christopher Cummings

When product managers gather, we often talk about product management’s increasingly strategic role in organizations, and how we can lead teams and drive alignment by focusing on goals and market data.

That’s true insofar as it goes. But it doesn’t go far enough.

Too often, I fear product managers come across as modern-day Neros, fiddling while the rest of the organization burns.

Because it’s not our fault that engineering can’t execute on time, and it’s not our fault that marketing can’t get the word out effectively, and it’s not our fault senior management can’t stop bickering and sandbagging one another, or whatever.

As product managers, we’re above all that. If other teams can’t rally, they’re the problem, not us. We’ll work cross-functionally with you people once you finally grow up.

That attitude doesn’t help anyone

It’s time to stop thinking that product management is somehow Above The Fray.

Having data is great. Making it accessible and understandable and meaningful to people inside the organization is better.

Focusing team outputs is great. But if they can’t achieve those outputs because of team dysfunction — and we’re allowing them to flounder — then we’re part of the problem.

Because, when we allow them to flounder, we’re not acting like leaders. We’re acting like a passive-aggressive, all hat, no cattle version of a leader — and that’s no good to anyone.

The best leaders and managers know how to align objectives across departments and resolve conflicts through understanding and teamwork. These leaders don’t turn a blind eye to things that impede progress and make teams miserable and ineffective.

If we’re truly leaders in our organizations then it’s our duty and privilege to help the organization function as well as our products.

In other words…

Being “strategic” means more than lurking in the perfect storm of technology, products, and business. It means being a transformational leader who encourages individuals and teams to achieve their potential, and working with other managers to make that happen.

Otherwise, Rome burns. And guess what? No one’s going to care how “strategic” you said you were; you’ll just be another manager who could have done something, should have done something, and didn’t.

Image from Flickr Commons


ChrisCummingsChristopher Cummings specializes in product management for digital, consumer-facing products, including mobile apps, loyalty programs, and high-traffic websites. He blogs about product management at his personal site, Product Management Meets Pop Culture, and can be found on Twitter @chriscummings01.

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