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Pissing Off Product Management - Senior Management

Last post was about the ways that Sales finds to really tick off product management. However, sales is hardly unique in their ability to interfere and interrupt the product management role. Sales might have a loud voice and some big sticks, but senior management can be far more deleterious on the health of a program or project.

That they can really stick in the craw of product management is not obvious on the surface, and in fact can be completely hidden from the rest of the organization, but that hardly makes it less annoying or damaging.

  • Two Faced Management -sadly, a common trait in management. They will have a private and a public position on just about everything that happens. No brownie points given to figuring out that the private side is was grinds product managements’ gears. We in product management know that some horse trading and quid pro quo has to happen, and we are willing to play that game. Yet, all too often what assurances you get in private, don’t match the public voice, and you can guess who loses that battle.

  • The MGMT FIFO Queue – not really a true FIFO, but senior managers are busy, and have to deal with a lot of distractions. Thus the first person to their office with an issue will set the tone. Unfortunately, product management is often fighting the fire, not lobbying why it isn’t their fault, so they get stuck with the blame (looking at you Engineering).

  • Politics – only a really junior person, or someone who is completely deaf, dumb, and blind would believe that there aren’t politics at play. The senior manager (GM or group VP) will be steeped in the politics, and the game playing that is required. Unfortunately, the politics can manifest itself as pressure to alter the product to help a constituency in the organization. Senior management may trade a feature request from sales for a committed larger quota or forecast. Then this feature gets added to the plan, whether it is justified or not. Before long, the product development process has been corrupted, and you are powerless to fix it.

  • Undue Influence – senior management often doesn’t realize their pull in an organization. They may have a nifty idea, and walk down to the engineering corridor, and engage in a hallway conversation. What starts as an interesting discussion and thought exercise is then misinterpreted by engineering as a course change. Then 2 weeks later, at the next design review, the product manager finds that his carefully written, crafted, and validated product requirements are completely changed. And senior management will not understand why their product manager is upset.

  • Not Believing in Product Management – Product management is a powerful adder to the organization. The right person or team will bring rigor, order, predictability, and a strategy for success to the business. However, senior management often bristles that someone else in the organization, who isn’t an executive, can provide this value. So they consciously, or subconsciously sabotage their product team. Particularly if product management reports to marketing, there is a distrust, yet I have experienced this when reporting directly to the GM or the group VP. It is usually a signal to search for a new job.

Product management is a difficult enough job. Balancing the tactical and the strategic goals is a challenge, but adding the active sabotage and career destroying politics raises the stress to intolerable levels.

Senior management should be a believer in their product management team, but all too often feel threatened that a single resource can be so critically positioned to affect all aspects of an organization. So instead of leveraging their product managers, many weaker leaders undermine, and stack the deck against success.

Yet, when they do succeed in pushing product management out, they quickly find out what they lost, and struggle to regain it, all to repeat the cycle over and over again.


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Jeffery Lebowski

Jeffery Lebowski

Product Manager for more than 20 years, in a variety of technology companies, from semiconductor equipment, networking, industrial test, enterprise software and nano technology.

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Pissing Off Product Management - Senior Management
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