Peter Yang

@peteryang

The PM Mindset: Take Extreme Ownership

The term extreme ownership comes from this book by ex-Navy Seals

If you enjoy this post, I’m writing a book for new and aspiring product managers to help them get a head start in their PM career. Sign up at principles.pm to get a free chapter now.

Imagine that you’re the PM of a product that did not meet expectations. In a retro with your team and your manager, you kick off the meeting with:

Well our goals were too aggressive and we should wait to see what happens with adoption. We didn’t ship on time because people left the team due to the re-org. And we certainly didn’t get any support from recruiting to fill our open headcount.

With this response, you’re denying the problem (give the product some more time), making excuses (people left because of a re-org), and blaming others (recruiting didn’t help). Your manager will leave the meeting disappointed that you didn’t discuss your mistakes. Worse, your teammates will be thinking: “If our PM isn’t taking responsibility, why should we?”

Now imagine that you start the meeting with:

This product didn’t meet our expectations because I made several mistakes. First, the goals I set were too aggressive because I didn’t consider seasonal drops in usage. Second, some people left the team because I didn’t spend enough time understanding their career goals and explaining to them why this product matters to our customers. Finally, I didn’t help recruiting fill our open headcount.

With this response, you are taking ownership of the problem. You are laying out your mistakes, which makes your manager and your team more confident that you won’t repeat them again. You are placing the blame on yourself, which encourages your team to also list their mistakes. You are setting the stage for an open discussion about how everyone can help fix the problem.

Good PMs have a mindset of extreme ownership. They know that that their most important job is to spread this mindset to every member of their team.

Extreme ownership means checking your ego, admitting your mistakes, and developing a plan to make sure you don’t repeat them again.

  • If your CEO tells you to work on a project that doesn’t make sense, it means asking questions until you understand why this project is important so that you can pass your understanding to your team.
  • If your manager gives you critical feedback, it means thanking her and reflecting on what you can do to improve.
  • If people on your team are underperforming, it means spending time with them to understand why and giving them advice to get back on track.

The best way to spread extreme ownership to the team is to lead by example.

Remember: If your team is noticing that you’re doing whatever it takes to solve a problem, they will want to take ownership too.

So the next time you find yourself denying a problem, making excuses or blaming others – check your ego and take ownership instead.

I’m writing a book for new and aspiring product managers. If you enjoyed this post, visit principles.pm to get a free chapter.

More by Peter Yang

Topics of interest

More Related Stories