Product managers sit at the crossroads of adaptation

As a product manager, if you are doing your job right, you are never bored. That is, if you are properly shepherding initiatives from conception to launch and through iterations of continuous improvement and growth, if you are monitoring the market and constantly scanning the competitive environment, if you are partnering across the organization to pitch new ideas and create new value, if you are meeting with customers and better understanding their goals and challenges, then you should be busy.

Product managers sit at the crossroads of every key decision in the lifecycle of an organization’s key initiatives.  And in a world of increasing changes in technologies, markets, audiences, competitors, governance, supply chains, and so many more trends, successful adaptation is more critical than ever.

If product managers are good at their job, then they are critical in helping to do the most important work of figuring out how your products should adapt to this steady stream of knowns, unknowns, known unknowns, and unknown unknowns. It’s a messy world, and product managers are there to help organizations harness the mess and thrive in change.

Good product managers are tracking all the right signals

As an effective product manager, you are on top of the metrics and the signals. You are keeping a watch on the heartbeat of the product. You are watching the market and the industry. And you are opening your mind open to the trends and themes in the wider world that could affect your team.

You are the one who is supposed to be pulling this all together and providing the space to consult and interpret the information. You are also the one who they trust to keep watch as they charge forward and build the future.

Good product managers are framing the decisions for the team 

In addition to taking in all that important information, and filtering out all the noise, a good product manager is framing the next set of decisions for the team to make.

It is important here that we use the word ‘framing’ instead of ‘making’ those decisions. Framing is about setting things up in a fair, transparent, and effective way so that the decisions can be made with confidence and cohesion. It is about ensuring people have the information, know the risk, and accept the responsibility together. With the right framing, the product team has unity. And with unity, the product team can achieve greatness together.

It’s also important to note that unity is not conformity. Product team unity is more than its parts, not a combination of its parts. Being an empowered team means everyone is obligated to share their opinions, their fears, their skepticisms, and their concerns along with their enthusiasm, excitement, and options. The discussion should include a healthy and vibrant dialog.

But once a decision is made, everyone must learn to move forward to discover the future together. Empowered team members either agree and commit, or they disagree and commit. But disagreeing, stalling, pouting, and undermining efforts are not an option. This is what destroys unity and ruins the whole thing.

Without a balance between these two elements of open consultation against unity of effort, there can be no empowered team. It is especially the product manager’s job to ensure this balance is maintained.

Good product managers have what they need to feel like a community

Humans are social creatures. As much as your introverted programmer or self-absorbed and awkwardly opinionated designer might pretend, they crave community as much as anyone else.

Don’t believe me? Go look at the social ratings and comments on StackOverflow, the feedback on dribbble, and the encouragement on 500px. Still don’t believe me, go to a Star Trek or a Comic-Con convention, and tell me that these geeks don’t want to be somewhere they feel like they belong.

As a product manager, you have the power to drive adaptation

Successfully adapting organizations to our changing world is not something one person can do in an ivory tower. It takes a clear-eyed awareness of the situation, a deep mutual trust in your teams, and a collective willingness to go where the winds of change are blowing in order to succeed.

Even if a company doesn’t adopt something like the Adaptable Product Framework formally, I sincerely believe that an effective product manager can do great work by employing its principles on his or her team.

The fact is, I’ve been on teams where I have put in the effort. Usually, it’s those times that have led to some of the most rewarding experiences of my career.

But I also have to admit that I’ve also been on teams where it was a lot harder to do, and maybe I didn’t put in the effort. We shipped, but it felt routine and mechanical. It wasn’t fun. The results didn’t resonate. And we never bonded.

I highly recommend putting in the effort. It’s much more fun. 

The fact is, you as a product manager have everything you need to create a healthy community out of your team and your audiences, which is a critical element to adapting to our changing world. And there has never been a more important time to do that.