With Great Responsibility, Comes No power
By Chijioke Michael Egbulefu
A product manager is basically responsible for the success of the products he/she manages. You may have heard the overused analogy that PMs are the CEOs of their products. The unique challenge here is that while they own the product, they have no direct control over the people who help them build, market, and support it. These include Design, Engineering, Customer Service, Product Ops, Marketing, Sales, Legal etc.
PMs manage products, not people because the CEO has all the authority. That said, PMs still have to rely on people to bring their product’s vision to life. They need to bring the team together to work on these high-impact projects and get them to agree/align and build consensus on the best path to build and launch the product.
Influence is the capacity or power of a person to be a compelling force on/or produce effects on the actions, behavior, and opinions of others.
Simply, this is a skill a PM needs to cultivate in order to get things done. How does he/she come to have this much-needed influence?
Building relationships: Relationships are built on trust and credibility. This gives others confidence in your decisions especially when they need to take a leap of faith. New PMs or those leading a team for the first time will have to prove one way or another that they can be trusted and counted upon. This is one way to get people to do what you want them to do – influence.
Trust is earned when people perceive you to be reliable and credible. Credibility is best demonstrated by what you know and how you communicate what you know. Through learning and personal experience, a PM gains extensive knowledge of the customer, the market, and the technology required for the product. Reliability simply means that you do what you said and be consistent so people know they can depend on you when they need to.
Give credit where it’s due: Trust can be earned when the PM shares credit for successes. No single person is responsible for building a product and people generally like being recognized for their work. Product development is always a team effort. When credit is shared, it fosters the feeling in others that they are valuable. This builds morale.
Team bonding: This leads to intimacy and getting to know your team members better and probably on a more personal level. It can happen in any different number of ways such as brainstorming and picnicking. When everyone is involved in the ideation stage they feel a sense of ownership and will be more than willing to work with you to bring these ideas to life. These bonding activities are a good way to build camaraderie with the team; barriers are lowered and asking for help becomes a whole lot easier.
Aligning Incentives: In addition to building relationships, PMs benefit when incentives align. Different stakeholders are involved in the development and launching of a product and it can be difficult to come to a consensus when everyone has their own motives and drives. It will be great when the driving motivation for Engineering, Product, Marketing, Legal, etc all align. Conflict occurs when incentives collide. When this is the case, it is important to try to understand everyone’s viewpoints and where they are coming from. Having deliberate discussions can help all parties/stakeholders get why you, as the PM, want certain things done in a certain way, at a certain time.
Data also never lies, so the popular saying goes. With adequate data, it is easier to objectively paint a picture and carry out a cost-benefit analysis to determine the high impact features, setting a common ground for a way forward.
Share Your Decision Making Process/Explain your WHY: Bringing the people you work with into the conversation, walking them through the data, and explaining why you are thinking what you are thinking is the way to earn trust, gain alignment and build influence. Basically, show your workings.
Walking them through the inputs that have, or is likely to shape the decision-making process will put them less in defense mode and more in a helping mode.
Inputs such as user research, metrics, and the trade-offs as a result of cost-benefit analysis. These can help with clarifying insights into how people use your products, the level of impact, and therefore prioritization. With this, empathy and alignment are easier achieved.
So to round up, influence can be built through any or all of the following:
1. Building relationships through trust and credibility
2. Giving credit to whom it is due in a timely manner
3. Getting to know the team
4. Getting everyone to work towards a common goal
5. Sharing your thought process and reasoning
When you have gained enough influence, people will choose to believe in you and this is when you can get a whole lot more done.