Hackernoon logoWhen you need and when you DO NOT need a product manager by@elenasviridenko

When you need and when you DO NOT need a product manager

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@elenasviridenkoElena Sviridenko

Nowadays, product managers often wear too many hats, leaving the role more and more vague and blurring the boundaries of their area of responsibility, thereby diminishing the value of the product managerโ€™s core functions.

While this is an absolutely clear strategical front-line role that brings a distinctive value to the business, it commonly gets abused by the organizations expecting product managers to fill in the gaps in various disciplines just because they can do that due to their broad professional background.

Yes, product managers do have a broad background, otherwise they would not be able to effectively collaborate with the stakeholders, lead the product and make the informed decisions. But this definitely should not end up with the product managers melting into the routines intended for the other roles.

Being a decision maker, before opening a vacancy, question yourself as to your expectations from the product manager. Think critically about what you want them to do:

  1. What do you want a product manager to change/fix in your organization? What is it that you are missing?
  2. Do you not already have the in-house expertise that would help you address the current issues?

If you are still unsure about whether or not you need a product manager in the house, I suggest that you check yourself with this checklist and answer Yes/No to each of its questions:

  1. Does your product have a vision? Is it aligned with the market needs?
  2. Are you sure you are building the right productโ€Šโ€”โ€Šthe one that delivers value to your target audience?
  3. Do you have a direction? A long-term and a near-term roadmap?
  4. Are you capable of maintaining the strategical focus across all levels of the organization?
  5. Do you know your competitors and what have they got on a table? Why do they hold their current position on the market and what brought them there?
  6. Do you have an established feedback loop with your clients?
  7. Do you always appeal to the evidence when making a decision? Do you validate your assumptions prior to placing bets on them?
  8. Do you have a groomed and prioritized product backlog?
  9. Reflect on the product failures: do you know why they happened and how to avoid them in the future?
  10. Are you comfortable saying โ€˜Noโ€™ to various insights from various stakeholders and explaining why what they think is important and should be done is not as important and will not be done?

The prevalence of negative answers means your organization is failing at the product expertise and you desperately need one not to fail the organization itself.

Though, hiring a proficient product manager would not salvage the situation unless your organization is welcoming to the forthcoming changes.

Consider the following bullets as preconditions required for the product manager to work at full capacity and deliver maximum benefits:

  1. Share openly the concerns that you have in regards to the product and organization.
  2. Give them a full picture so they have a clear understanding of what has been happening.
  3. Be ready to answer inconvenient questions.
  4. Be ready to explain the historical reasons of why the things stand in this way and not another.
  5. Foster establishing trustful and fruitful relationships with the clients.
  6. Enable product manager to work both with the internal and external stakeholders. This is vital.
  7. Be ready that the product manager will be protecting the engineers from any influence that would take them away from the focus. So if you have a habit of jumping straight into the process and possibly introducing a change request or two, you will have to give it up.
  8. Product managers are agnostic and do not let themselves bring personal opinions to the work, so you will need to prove your point before it ends up in the plan or otherwise be ready to hear โ€˜Noโ€™.

Be critical about what you are asking your product manager to do and avoid temptation assigning them to the jobs belonging to other roles, for instance:

  • Making them accountable for managing and delivering projects and giving the status updates. That is a job of the delivery manager.
  • Facilitating the Agile ceremonies, managing and advocating for the team. Leave that for the team leaders and scrum masters.
  • Writing the detailed specs, creating mockups and prototypes, conducting usability studies and A/B testing whatsoever, which is in the field of business analysts and user experience specialists.
    You really do not need a product manager for all these.

Finally, bring a product manager on board only if you are ready to trust their expertise and to accept them as a driving force of your business.

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