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Product Management
Women in Tech

How Product Managers Redefine the Term “CIO”

Feb 18, 2017
By Jen Choi

We often hear that product managers are called the CEO of their product — meaning, they manage the end-to-end development and launch of their product. However, that seems to over-ascribe the authority of the product manager. After all, product managers don’t need to deal with shareholders and often times, do not directly manage the P&L or finances.

Product managers are responsible for being the advocates for the users, having insanely sharp product sense, and helping the team and company ship the right products.

To successfully execute the above, instead of calling product managers “CEOs”, I liken PMs to “CIOs” — Chief Influence Officers.

When I shipped my first product, I had zero people reporting to me. I was the sole owner of my product with limited executive support. The task ahead of me seemed very daunting — I had to build a product from conception while working in an intensely cross-functional environment. My larger team consisted of so many stakeholders — back end developers, Big Data, data scientists, UI/UX designers, branding, legal, servicing, marketing, and a slew of other ancillary groups that needed to be consulted.

When working with so many teams without any direct authority or reporting powers, the most critical skill for a product manager to have is to be influential and persuasive. This is not easy as dealing with people is not a hard skill that can be learned. Being a collaborative person will only get you so far, but to generate enthusiasm and inspiration from your team requires a far greater deal of influence and charisma.

A CEO mentality presumes that you are the leader and everyone should listen to you. In practice, it is unlikely a team will help you unless they are specifically goaled or incentivized to work on your product. After all, we all have our own responsibilities. A CIO mentality presumes that you are part of the team and that your role is to galvanize the team to feel collective ownership of the product.

I’ll share with you a few hacks I picked up along the way on how to influence your team without a formal reporting structure.

  1. Demonstrate what is in it for them. Asking someone to do work for you isn’t an easy task. Who likes being assigned work? You already have enough to do. But what if you could communicate WHY someone should participate? Whether it’s pitching their involvement as a way to be recognized by the company or an opportunity to sharpen a skill set, it is critical you demonstrate a value proposition.

  2. Give recognition where it is deserved. The best product managers don’t take sole credit for the success of a product. The greatest product managers I’ve worked with ensure that the team as an entity is recognized for the achievements. I love to call out specific individuals who have gone above and beyond to contribute to the product development. This not only fosters rapport, but also will incentivize others to continue to participate.

  3. Be an expert on your product. The last bit of advice is to be an expert on your product. Building trust and credibility is the most important way to solidify relationships between you and your broader team. You must be able to articulate the value of the product and describe it in excruciating detail — convey why this particular product or feature is so essential. If you come in to a meeting with a half-hearted attitude about your product or aren’t able to clearly explain how this product or feature will work, you instantly lose credibility. After all, if you don’t care about the product, why should anyone else? Know your product backlog and feature set inside and out. Know the exact value proposition behind each feature and be able to tie it back to the overall goal and vision of the product.

The best product managers are able to gather the right people to make decisions, build consensus, and ensure strong communication and collaboration amongst the various teams. Influencing without authority is an ongoing learning exercise, often trial and error. I believe those product managers that can navigate this successfully, will ultimately end up delivering delightful products with the strong support of the broader team.

-- This article first appeared on Medium on Mar 9, 2015 --

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