Product Mgmt Leadership 101: Use the White Board!

To build an innovative product team, you need to value your employees.  This is so simple, yet is difficult to do. When your product managers feel that they are valued, contributing to the organization, and are part of the strategy, great things can happen.  Product Managers are Type-A personalities, who are curious, innovative, and very hard working.  Here are some tips to successfully lead an innovative product management team.  Experiment and see if you see a movement in the engagement, collaboration or innovation needle.

I Don’t Get It

There is nothing worse than being informed of a product decision without understanding the reasoning behind it.  As curious individuals, it’s only natural for product managers to want to understand why leadership made a particular decision.  They will frequently ask “why”. It’s the nature of their curiosity.

While some information may be confidential, when you can, walk them through the background of the decision. Whether it’s a product decision made by leaders, feedback, or organizational direction, product managers appreciate the ‘why.’  Even if it’s a leader’s ‘gut’ decision, tell them that. Not only does this create a transparent organization, but it also builds both trust and collaboration with the team.

Let them Lead

Product Managers are critical from a leadership perspective to an organization.  They lead the product lifecycle.  They lead cross-functional teams.  They lead the product strategy.  They lead engineering teams.  Yes, it’s primarily indirect leadership but nevertheless, they need leadership skills. Empower them to lead their teams.  Give them the skill set to understand how to lead.

Enable Product Managers To Provide Input to Strategic Decisions

While it’s a reality that some executive leaders make product decisions, enable the product managers to be part of the process and provide input.  They know the market, the customer, the product, the sales cycle, the customer value proposition.  When decisions are made, enable the product managers to contribute insight to the process.  Not only does this give the product managers a sense of appreciation, but it builds trust with leadership and enables them to feel valued, which then leads to collaboration and innovation.  

Celebrate Small Wins

Share and celebrate successes, no matter how small, as they happen.  Achieving a business goal does not happen overnight, rather, there are several milestones along the way.  Take the time to focus on milestones reached or building new innovative ideas!  In the world of product management, success regarding market momentum can take years.  As successful milestones happen due to the work of the product management team, celebrate.  It does not take much.  A simple thank you from a leader in the group goes a long way.

Innovation on the Whiteboard

There is no greater tool for a product manager than a whiteboard.  When you are talking with your product managers, hand them a marker and have them start to white board their ideas.  Information becomes insightful when a product manager writes it on a white board.  It allows the product manager to not only express their ideas, but enables you to start to collaborate and innovate with them.  When they start to put their thoughts on a whiteboard, you should ask questions, be curious, and collaborate with them.  For product managers to be engaged, they need to feel valued, and their ideas need to matter.  By giving them the space to collaborate with you does both.

Laugh a Little

There is nothing worse than going into a meeting that is ‘all business’.  Make sure when you talk to your product managers, you include some fun, stories, and laughter in the conversation.  Product Managers spend an enormous amount of energy building innovative products.  Allow them to have some time having some fun, even if it’s just part of your team meeting or 1x1s.  This builds a high performing, collaborative, and innovative team environment.