Navigating the PM Framework: Part 2
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This is part 2 of a 3 part series breaking down the PM Career Framework. If you missed part 1, check it out here.
Vision and Strategy
It’s all about developing, keeping, and leveraging trust
As a PM we are not directly responsible for the health of the org, but a healthy org will help us achieve the impact that we are accountable for. When our direct team is healthy we are well set up for delivery. When the org is healthy we are well set up for collaboration to achieve goals which are bigger than what one reasonable sized team can accomplish. As a result, Product Management is a leadership position, and leadership is one of the pillars of the Product Career framework.
A healthy org requires relationships to be established between members both within and across teams in our department or “Product Area” (PA). It also requires PA members to be challenged, motivated, and generally enjoying their job. By being in a leadership position we contribute to the culture of our team and organisation, which is a contributing factor to the impact we are able to have.
Members of an organisation need to feel safe to express their ideas, learn, challenge others, and broadly to be themselves. This is the foundation of a teams’ hierarchy of needs. Trust, collaboration, retention and more will struggle until a baseline of psychological safety is achieved. By being in a leadership position our behaviour is contagious and we contribute to this in a positive or negative way.
Belonging and Inclusion
A healthy organisation requires that members feel like they belong in the organisation, and that the organisation is inclusive to them personally. There are various approaches a team might take with the explicit goal of achieving this sense of belonging, such as organising all-hands, fikas (Swedish coffee breaks), after-works, team lunches/dinners, gaming sessions and off-sites. These can be especially necessary in a distributed environment, which also makes it more challenging to be inclusive to various work styles and activity preferences. While not something a PM is accountable for directly, as a leader we do contribute to it and it helps to lead by example. If we have fun in the team and make an effort to make sure that others have fun too, that will be contagious. By helping create a sense of belonging in the organisation, being inclusive, and making work fun it will help retention, and enable the development of relationships and trust.
Mentoring and Growth
In order for an org to be healthy, members of the org need to have the prospect of growing in their career by learning and conquering exciting challenges. Growth of individuals improves the impact an org can have, both by improving and channelling their expertise, but also by significantly improving retention. This can be done by mentoring junior PMs, helping with the onboarding process of new joiners. But it doesn’t need to be limited to PMs only. It is common for engineers, designers or insights people to be interested or have ambitions of transitioning into product. And even if they are not interested in transitioning, we very likely have developed some transferable skills and can still help them grow in their own roles in other ways.
Feedback and Recognition
We should provide constructive feedback and recognise individuals and teams when a job is well done. Insightful, constructive feedback helps develop psychological safety, and provide team members with the opportunity to reflect and grow. Recognition provides reinforcement, motivation and inspires self-confidence in team members.
I often feel that as a PM I am responsible for everything and nothing. We are accountable for impact, which requires delivery. Our Engineering Manager partner is accountable for delivery. The engineering team builds the things and completes tickets. Then we often have to collaborate with other teams and their EMs. We partner with tech, insights or design experts to learn and put together strategy. And occasionally there is a need for team building events, workshops, all-hands presentations, and more. It’s a lot, and we cannot and should not do it on our own.
We cannot be responsible for all the decisions that are taken within a problem space. While we may be accountable for those decisions, it doesn’t scale, and if we are not careful we inevitably become a bottleneck that affects delivery negatively. Instead we have to empower those we work with to make decisions that we are willing to stand behind. And for this to happen, they will need to understand not just WHAT to do, but WHY they are doing it. If we share only WHAT we need to do, nuance is lost, and we create a situation which is vulnerable to misunderstanding. With WHY, if some aspect of a task is unclear or doesn’t make sense they are armed with the information they need to make an informed decision to resolve that unclarity.
Delegating with Trust
There are not enough hours in the day/week/month for us to complete all the expectations that are on us. But that doesn’t mean we can drop these expectations, nor should we work 60 hour weeks to get it all done. Instead we can scale ourselves by delegating responsibility. This is easier said than done! We are still accountable for the expectations which we delegate, which means if some expectation gets dropped in the delegation we have done a bad job. We must delegate with trust. If delegating without trust, we end up checking in regularly, which implies that we have not released the mental load of the expectation, and have not scaled ourselves. By spending time on relationships with the partners we collaborate with, we develop rapport and the trust necessary to delegate. And then we can let go and focus on something else.
Proactively deciding where NOT to engage
Lastly, not all expectations are equally important. Some might not even be valid. The third aspect to scaling ourselves is choosing what of those expectations we are OK with dropping or delaying. In a leadership position we have so much responsibility and so much to do. If we aren’t careful we will be reactive and do whatever got our attention most recently, which could be a noisy customer or teammate. If we are working reactively, we are not being deliberate with our time and energy and there is a good chance we are not focusing on the right things. By spending some time reflecting on what is important and the current state, we can decide what expectations we really must spend energy on, what we can delegate, and most importantly what we can drop or delay. Doing less things is an obvious, but critical way to scale ourselves.
In order for us to scale ourselves we have to develop trust in the collaboration partners around us. But in order for those in our leadership structure to do the same, they have to develop that trust in us too. As a result, transparency goes a long way to being an effective leader.
Establishing Trust in Ourselves
All of the points above related to scaling ourselves require operating with a high degree of transparency. Of course there are some areas which are sensitive and must be kept quiet, but generally oversharing is better than undersharing. By oversharing we are inviting those around us into our thought process, which helps empowerment, establishing trust in ourselves, and makes clear our expectations. This is especially important in a distributed and asynchronous work environment. I believe in sharing early and often, because receiving feedback on a finished idea is far less productive than receiving feedback throughout the process which could cause that idea to change course.
Leading our org is half of the responsibility. The other half is representing and being accountable for the org to our leadership structure. By understanding the motivations and concerns of our upper level leadership, as well as WHY, we can be more effective in how we communicate and represent our teams and initiatives. This means surfacing the right deliveries and updates, not ALL the deliveries and updates. It also means speaking on a level that will resonate with our leaders, which will differ depending on the person and context.
Don’t be afraid to Escalate
Lastly, our management is accountable for our success too. If you or your team is not set up for success in our expectations we need to escalate that and give them the opportunity to help. They may understand our concerns and be fine with the situation, which is a very important message. Or they may hear our concerns, decide it is unacceptable, and do everything in their power to help. The earlier we surface when we recognise we are not set up for success, the more likely it is that help is possible, and the more trustworthy we will be as a result.
New to PM? Check out this post with some learnings from the early days, or this Podcast episode about scaling yourself.