How does a product manager gain more autonomy?

Producto.io is a community of professionals who work with digital products. It is maintained by Arthur Castro , Raphael Farinazzo , Marcell Almeida , Ã‰frem Filho and Thiago Diniz, a group of seasoned product managers quite engaged in sharing interesting content through Medium. They’ve started a new series of articles called “What now PM?”. The articles bring answers from many product managers to questions of the daily product management routine.

The first question was pretty cool, about “how to create alignment with stakeholders on roadmap delays? “. The word that sums up the answers is transparency, but I strongly recommend reading the article, since it is full of helpful advice and insights.

The next question they are working on is “How to gain more autonomy (of decisions) within your area / organization?”. I’m looking forward to reading the answers they will put together. I was honored to be one of the guests to answer this question and I would like to share my answer here first hand. For their article, I sent a shortened version, but here I bring the full version of the answer:

Every product manager (PM), unless she is the founder, or she’s starting a product from scratch, will join a team that already has a product. The first thing this PM has to do is understand where the product she’ll manage came from. She should talk to the founders and understand what vision they have for this product. What strategic objectives do they want to achieve with this product? What problem does this product solve? For whom?

In the unavailability of the founders, there will certainly be some person, probably a manager, director, VP or CEO, who is the sponsor of this product, that is, the person who inherited from the founders the vision of this product.

You, as PM, have been invited to manage that person’s product to help realize the person’s vision for the product. You probably should have discussed this vision during your interview, even before you were invited to manage the product. Be aware that if you have been invited to manage a product that does not have a clearly defined vision, your work will be very difficult or even impossible as long as this vision does not exist and be clear to everyone involved inside and outside the company. In this scenario, helping to create this product’s vision is your first and highest priority.

By creating this vision alignment with the founders or the people who are the product sponsors in your company, the next step is to ensure that this vision is aligned and clear to everyone involved, both inside (employees, directors, board members) and outside your company (customers and suppliers).

Once this alignment of vision is created, now is the time to work together with this person to create a bond of trust. Then enter the normal product management discovery work with all the techniques already known. Discoveries often lead to important decisions in your product. Start making these decisions together with the founder or sponsor of the product, always bringing your decision suggestion based on your discovery. Validate these decision suggestions with others involved internally and externally.

  1. Discovery plus your decision suggestion.
  2. Joint decision making with product founder / sponsor.
  3. Decision alignment with everyone involved.

You should repeat this cycle until it becomes increasingly clear to the founders or the sponsor of the product and to everyone involved that you are making the right decisions. By doing this you will gain the confidence you need to make the future decisions with the desired autonomy.

But remember what Uncle Ben said to Peter Parker, “with great power comes great responsibilities!”

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