Product Managers, Make your CEO provide a clear vision
There are so many articles about the challenges and stresses of being a Product Manager. But this is an article about your CEO’s duty to set a vision, to define why your company exists. For some product managers, the thought of talking openly about the void left by a missing vision statement is paralyzing. And as a product leader gets more senior, the need to clearly define the product strategy intensifies. In Alpha’s Product Management Insights study of more than 150 digital product managers, 32% percent said that their biggest wish in the coming year was a clearer product roadmap / strategy.
So how frequently do you and the CEO interface? Does the CEO provide general direction? He should provide general direction. Without it you can't be vision-driven. You need that guidance to lead, to guide and define the broader direction of the product.
Where can communication be improved?
By forcing your CEO to articulate a vision statement you can shift from a tactical, execution role to a highly strategic, product delivery role. There’s a lot of research on how a clearly articulated company vision positively affects a product manager’s decision making. It allows you to create the mechanism for developing, communicating and tracking what the company is trying to achieve.
“He seems busy. I'd hate to add to his stress."
If this sounds like you, before you can move forward in your vision articulation conversation, you need to realize you don’t have to be so vulnerable to this negligence. You can engage in conversation without going head-to-head and stagnate your career.
I’ve worked with a handful of disruptive companies as their CEO's established the vision for their business. A pretty common thing in many early stage companies is that they're still figuring out their market and their place in it, so having an overarching vision at that point is a little challenging. Whether you’re in a startup or a mid-sized company, here’s how you can do the same.
Engage in conversation by taking responsibility for your contribution early
Taking responsibility for your contribution up front prevents the CEO from using it as a shield to avoid a discussion of their own omission. Be honest! You assumed there was a vision. When in fact there wasn’t. Ask them what’s their assessment of the situation is.
Follow by giving the CEO a sense of where your head is.
- What problem you're trying to solve — To define why the company exists
- Who you're trying to solve it for? — Everyone following you. They should know the right direction.
- What are the goals we are trying to meet — How the product will benefit the organization and/or users
Talk constructively about where to go next. Define how you’d like him/her to handle this and confirm the approach by asking if they need anything from you? Then follow with a "Here’s what I need from you" concluding your conversation by defining a clear timeline.
Whatever your situation, you need to get good at establishing and extending your CEO's vision — not as a smart-ass or bullying technique, but as the most effective way of relating to and working with others, and the most effective way of getting results.
Without a vision statement, you can’t commit to long-term roadmaps. The benefits you deliver as a Product Manager will come down to how you break down a company’s vision statement into strategies. Those strategies should cover different areas of the product. And by breaking them into goals you take the correct steps towards the product's growth. Feature executables are tangible and you’re all moving together as a team. By understanding the consequences of a lack of vision, you can work to create one.
I thrive in middle market and scrappy startup environments, where everyone does a little of everything. I work closely with CSuite leadership teams towards product-market fit and operating at scale. Check me out on Reflektions.com and view my LinkedIn profile.
Thanks to Matt Fogel, Nis Frome for reading drafts of this. Also, if you have any feedback or criticism about this article then shoot me an email.