Continuing on our series on product strategy, at this point we have focused the organization on a small number of truly important problems, and we have identified the key insights that we will leverage, and have converted these insights into actions in the form of objectives for each product team.

While this is all necessary preparation for the work that needs to be done, I can tell you from experience that if the leaders stop here, you will be disappointed at the end of the quarter.

This is because no product strategy survives its initial encounter with the real world.

There are any number of issues and obstacles that will emerge, and while each product team will deal with them, and make most of their decisions for themselves, there will be many cases where they will need you to remove obstacles and barriers, or otherwise provide assistance:

  • The product team realizes that they have a dependency on another team, and that team is consumed with its own objectives.
  • During product discovery, the team realizes that they require the use of a technology that they do not have access to, or knowledge of, today, so they may need to quickly acquire and learn.
  • A major customer issue arises and the organization is scrambling to determine the best way to take care of the customer yet still make progress on the team objectives.
  • Several product teams realize they all depend on changes from the same platform team, and that platform team is struggling to determine the best way to handle and help their colleagues.
  • A senior stakeholder raises a major concern impacting one of the key objectives and the product team needs a decision made quickly.

Hopefully you get the idea.  None of this is unusual, but unless the leaders are actively engaged in identifying, tracking and resolving these types of obstacles, little progress will result.

The main source of information for the product leader will be the weekly 1:1 with the product manager.  Of course, if something urgent comes up, you want to coach your product managers to reach out to you immediately and not wait until the next 1:1 to discuss.  

During this session you’ll be hearing of issues or obstacles, and you’ll be coaching on the best way to handle, and in some cases you’ll need to help by talking to a key stakeholder, or finding another engineer, or talking to another team about their need to help on a problem, or a hundred similar things.

Please don’t confuse this with command and control management.  You are not taking over control and telling the teams what to do; you are responding to their requests for help.  It’s more accurately described as servant leadership.

With all the normal urgencies and interruptions of life in a company, it is all too easy to find yourself half-way through the quarter with very little progress on the team’s objectives.  This is why weekly coaching is so important. You as the manager are ensuring that the product manager is making progress, and also as important learnings or insights are discovered, or major issues are identified, they are shared with you so this knowledge can be aggregated and disseminated to the relevant teams.

The coaching and the management of the strategy are not really different responsibilities as they are two sides of the same discussions.

Once again, with empowered product teams, you don’t need less management, you need better management.

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