You accomplish everything through others
Imagine attempting to persuade a stakeholder and it results in increased resistance. So much talk, so much rationale, so many facts. And because your approach was logical — one that leveraged data, your experience, and expertise — friction and disagreement ensues.
The Product Manager title alone won’t sway others, nor will it command the attention of stakeholders. Bottom line, we have no power to make other people see things as we do. You aren’t going to win every battle. Leadership is going to be wrong sometimes. Engineers will estimate wrongly. And Sales will always promise things your product doesn’t and will never do. And because you work at the intersection of groups of people — often people from different backgrounds — there will be very little shared understanding.
These are your constraints. This is the world within which you must work. So how do you create consensus?
You’re a "human" manager
You can’t make the impact you want unless you can influence others and shift their behaviour. It all comes down to your approach. How you understand the individuals, what they need, and how to command their attention. Here are some tips.
Step 1: Listen
Listen before you try to persuade. Lead with your ears instead of your mouth. It’s your role to respect, get buy-in and, even more, get results from the teams in a way that can deliver growth. Enhance your perspective by staying humble and asking "how" and "what" questions. Make them feel heard. Give them your undivided attention in one-on-one situations. Navigate all the behind-the-scenes issues, emotions, and personalities. Let them know through tangible action that their opinion, direction, and feedback matters. But most, they will follow you if they trust you, so find ways to integrate feedback to show that you have adjusted to their perspectives.
Step 2: Be a communication glue
You get huge value from being empathetic. Staying up-to-date, informed, and triangulating organizational concerns increases your credibility. Don’t keep your knowledge under wraps. Executive, development, user experience, and support teams will state problems. It requires exceptional effort to ensure clear unambiguous communication across departments. Be that glue! Let everyone generate ideas, and then get out of the way of stakeholders who may or may not see eye to eye. Positioning yourself to appeal to or appease various standpoints isn’t the end goal — it’s a step in the process.
Step 3: Set the context. Tell them why they should care.
The challenges of product development are not about products. They are about interpersonal relations. It’s time for open discussions to work out differences. Invite those who do not share opinions to a meeting. Establish a common basis for evaluation. Talk about how an idea will "benefit the organization" as a whole. Make the "why" more concrete by framing it as a noble motive benefiting the customer or the business. Everyone must support the goals to move together in the same direction. To accomplish that, move the discussion to the future tense as it’s the language of choice. The only way to unstick a situation and move forward is to make a choice.
How is blaming me going to improve anything? Whether you think I’m a jerk or not — let’s figure a way for us to move this along.
Why does the contribution of others play such a big part in the product process? Because people need to buy into your vision. No buy-in equals no delivery which ultimately means unsuccessful products. A key ingredient in successful product management is team-building by creating mutual support. Once stakeholders have a sense that you contributed to the creation of genuine camaraderie — there’s a better chance they will make a bet on you.
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 Nis Frome, Ben Melchionno and Gabriel Damant-Sirois for reading drafts of this. Also, if you have any feedback or criticism about this article then shoot me an email.