Product Management

Product Management is all about Relationships

Nathan Allsopp
November 29, 2017

Ask any Product Manager for a few of the “usual suspects” involved in their job, and I’m sure you’ll probably hear at least a few of the following.

Roadmaps. JIRA. Backlog. Kanban boards. Trello. Sprints. Epics. Tasks. Bugs. Priorities. User Interviews. Research.

However, what many Product Managers are doing without realising it is creating, strengthening and maintaining internal relationships. A PM’s “level of success” can be measured in different ways, but I believe that their success and efforts to unify the broader cross-functional team are linked.

1 —Better Relationships = Better Outcomes

Building a product requires bringing people of different disciplines together to follow a certain plan or course of action. Each of these teams follow play a unique role and add value through strategies and techniques relevant to their functional area.

Everybody is trying to better their own metrics and agendas, often without too much consideration of other functions. Let too many tasks from different places fly towards the product at the same time, and suddenly we’re here:

Legal putting tick-boxes everywhere, not telling anybody because they’re scary
Sales putting random stuff in because a customer said its “URGENT”
Finance upping prices and not telling anyone because “this way was easier”
OK, who’s going to go first then?

If you’ve got countless functional areas attacking a product at once, you’re bound to end up with:

  • An internal crap-fight 
  • A messy product
  • Super confused customers

Having strong relationships here is crucial for a Product Manager. If one function has a requirement, they should not be afraid to seek the help of other functional groups. It doesn’t mean they’re any less knowledgeable or bad at their job. 

It’s about finding the best solution for the context. Each team involved in the product knows the context of their function, and when you bring them together, more ideas can become apparent.

2 — Better Relationships = Better Information Flow

I’m sure we are all familiar with a situation where someone finds it difficult to work alongside a certain co-worker. Office politics begin and everyone knows about it. However, the breakdown of communication between these two people can be the most damaging outcome.

When building a product, communication is crucial. You share your relevant statuses and timelines to the group, but you also share information and knowledge from your own domain. Within a team, you play the role of “thought leader” for your area of expertise — you incorporate that knowledge throughout the team and the product.

It is the sharing of this information from very skilled, intelligent or experienced product that makes a product great. They know what they’re talking about, they’ve done it before and they know what to look out for.

When these relationships break down, all of a sudden communication grinds to a halt and the flow of information dries up. Walls are up, communication only occurs on an essential basis.

That’s it HR, I’ve had it — my walls are up!

The team suffers for it, but ultimately the quality of the product suffers most. Product Managers need to make a point of pointing out any elephants in the room and working them out. Find out why relationships aren’t blooming in a gentle way. Find subtle ways to boost communication and interaction.

3 — Better Relationships = Better Trust

As Product Managers, we have to prioritise tasks up and down the chain. Making these tough decisions often results in individuals/groups being impacted negatively. They need to have a huge degree of trust in the PM that the best course of action is to shelve their team’s interests for a later date and follow a different course of action.

However, this huge degree of trust does not come out from thin air. We don’t walk around wearing “CEO of the Product” badges to command respect.

We have to build relationships with every team and team member.

When these relationships don’t exist, people don’t trust their PM. They feel decisions are made for reasons other than the product’s greater good. Preferential treatment may be given to certain people, even though their ideas may suck. The PM is now just the source of internal politics and everyone’s ideal choice for a voodoo doll.

We need to have a relationship with each team, not just some of the teams. They need to know and understand that decisions are made for the product’s greater good, not for internal political reasons. Their requests are not being ignored or deleted, but re-arranged to be completed when they serve the best benefit to the product.

Don’t only “love” a few teams, love them all. Equally.

TL;DR — Relationships matter!

This article appeared on Medium here.

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