42 Rules: The Politics of Product Management
Digital marketing managers, and product managers alike, have lots of constituents—stakeholders whose “votes” matter. The political clout held by a network of departments, customers, and critics can have an unexpected effect on any new release, product design, or ad campaign.
As a project goes from concept to reality, both the product manager and the digital marketing manager receive many suggestions, ideas, and requests. It’s their job to sort through priorities to determine which make a real difference and which don’t make the cut. Some requests seek improved features and internal architecture. Engineers want to reduce technical debt. Price considerations for the biggest accounts may come from sales. Finance, marketing, IT, and even customers weigh in. It’s unlikely that every request can be addressed.
Savvy managers pull together, not apart, when addressing MRDs (market requirements documents). Here’s where good product managers and valued digital marketers earn their keep. Working as a team with key department personnel to understand and prioritize requests, asking questions, and seeking input and ideas will keep things civil and smooth should someone’s pet request get deep-sixed. Disappointment may be evident, but through good communication, everyone will understand how the project evolved and the decision was made.
As I navigate new territory at Adobe, applying my digital marketing knowledge to new challenges in product management, I’ve been soaking up advice and wisdom from a dozen recently recommended books. I’ve found the primer 42 Rules of Product Management, edited by Brian Lawley and Greg Cohen, to be a huge help. Here are a few gems that are turning out to have substantial value.
- Learn to say “no.” Good digital marketing managers and product managers listen. Concerns could prove valuable to all. Or, maybe not. Saying “yes” too frequently can dilute the power of the product. Saying “no” keeps all but the most important issues at bay. Either way, listening does two things: broadens your perspective and lets them know you are paying attention, even if you say “no.”
- Surprise! Unless you’ve just posted a blistering quarter that blew past your forecast, this is not a phrase you want associated with you. In an effort to avoid divisive or damaging discussion, do what any good political candidate would do: talk with your “constituents” to avoid unpleasant surprises from those who might feel rejected by a decision. Pre-MRD, sit down with engineering. With sales. With marketing. With IT. Have informal conversations to clarify intent and need. Anticipate reactions that passionate players may have to the potential rejection of an idea. Give them a heads up, perhaps asking what they think, to engage and assure them that their input has been considered.
- Define your role. Let people know, within your position, what you can, and cannot, do. If everyone has a realistic picture of what the possibilities are with regard to corporate structure and resources, requests will find logic.
With regard to prioritizing, and subsequently learning to say “no,” Tony Jaros of Sirius Decisions shared a little wisdom with me: Marketers, and probably more than a few product managers, tend to think in terms of the possible, not the probable. That broad sweep can weaken the message, causing it to fall flat instead of capturing the attention of a wider market.
Whether in digital marketing, product management, or life in general, “no” is a powerful word that is sometimes overused. One manager I worked under said “no” a lot. A friend whose proposals were continuously rejected by this manager became increasingly frustrated. I wanted to avoid that dead end, so I just plowed ahead with an idea I thought had merit. When she saw how it was working, she simply loved it. I know, however, had I presented it to her through preferred channels, she would have rejected it just as she had so many good ideas before. Bottom line? Going back to the previous blog on this book, sometimes you have to bend, or even break, the rules, to make progress.
Resource scarcity indicates that someone will always be disappointed. Communicating up front can get people on board with your decisions, paving the way from MRD to PRD (product requirements document), and upping your approval rating in the process. In short, give folks reasons to “vote” for you. Every day. Even if you don’t say “yes.”