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Empowering Your Product Management Team

Empowerment: We Can Do It

According to the latest Pragmatic Marketing survey, product managers spend nearly three-quarters of their time on tactical activities. When those same product team members were asked, what would make them effective, the answers were obvious; more strategic focus, more market visits, more autonomy and more training were among the top six responses. The reasons product teams get so far down in the weeds with problems may not seem obvious to the product management team or to leadership. Often product teams tend toward tactical activities because of a lack of empowerment. Without empowerment, product teams gravitate to those activities where they can exert the most influence and get the most done.

Organization leaders may find this counter-intuitive, because presumably, the product management team is empowered with very strategic goals. Depending on the organization, product managers may be tasked with:

-knowing the market

-overall profit and loss of the product

-being the CEO of the product

However, these are not clear responsibilities and they are not specific, actionable goals. Statements like this are high-level vision statements that can direct a product team, but they lack the detail to enable action. A CEO would not task a sales team or customer support team with only a lofty vision. The different tactics by various sales persons or persons supporting customers would cause confusion in the customer base and slow execution. For functional groups, leadership will clearly define the responsibilities, the key activities, the metrics for success and the authority employees have to deviate from the standard practice. This clarity is what allows an organization to stay focused and execute and the empowerment to deviate is what leads to success and growth.

Product management teams need this same level of commitment from the organization to be successful (and ultimately for the company's success). This begins with just two things from the leadership, defined responsibilities and the empowerment to affect those responsibilities. When a company vision becomes too watered down it loses its effectiveness. Similarly, when the roles of the product team are too abstract the product team becomes less effective. A leader should deliver a vision for the product team, but also a strategy to achieve that vision.

As an example, a CEO might state, "As a product manager I want you to think like the CEO of your product. You'll be responsible for the features in the product and ensure they align with our product vision and you'll be responsible for training our sales staff on the product vision and features and you'll be responsible for pricing, including bundling options. If you feel the product vision needs to shift, that we need to sell to a new market or that our organization isn't set up for success because of our structure, then come talk to me about it. Anything else, I'll expect you to execute on the features, the training and the pricing plans that will lead us to the best profitability."

In this example, the CEO empowers the product manager with a vision, a clear set of responsibilities and limits to those responsibilities. Further the CEO does not detail the tactics for those responsibilities, those the product manager is empowered to accomplish.

It also doesn't dictate anything about the market or knowing the customer, those are things the product manager will need to take on in order to do his/her job successfully. This might require a conversation about budgets and how much is available to spend, but shouldn't require a conversation every time the product manager wants to spend money to engage with customers.

While the breadth of a product management team may be greater than other parts of the organization, a product team needs the same items for empowerment that any group needs. This empowerment mirrors the company itself and starts at the top with a vision and a strategy to accomplish the vision. The objectives, key activities and metrics measured may be dictated to the product team (less empowering) or developed by the product team (more empowering), but just as with any group they should be defined and regularly provided in status updates to demonstrate progress.

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