How to Destroy Your Product Management Team

Out one side of executive's mouths they will praise the role of product management, yet, out the other side, they will often work to destroy the team.

The Dude has had a bird’s eye view of some pretty destructive behavior by senior management. All the enlightenment and coming of age of Product Management as a key member of the leader’s table aside, it appears that apart from paying lip service to the role, and using it as a dumping ground for all the odds and ends tasks that accumulate and other groups don’t want to own up to, there are some really boneheaded behaviors to discuss.

So, without further ado, here is the list:

Hire under qualified product managers. This is pervasive. There are several reasons, including: “We can’t find good candidates”, “Our industry is too hard to recruit for”, among many others. The fact is that it takes time, and more than a posting to find good candidates. Also as bad is “Bob from engineering just finished his University of Phoenix MBA, and wants to be a product manager” team additions Shudder. While there is a place for bringing in some un-seasoned veterans in a larger organization, it is rare that you have the luxury to coach someone from the ground up. Product Managers need to hit the ground running, and qualified ones are hard to find, and they know their value. Oh, and hiring someone and sending them to Pragmatic Marketing or the 280Group for three days does NOT a product manager make.

Make the Product Management team a revolving door. Dumping employees into the group that you don’t know where they fit – Bad Idea. Just don’t do it. Also, moving people in and out in 6 months is horribly detrimental. I had one person join my group on July 1, and by September 30, he was reassigned elsewhere, all without my knowledge.

Constantly pile on more responsibilities. A common theme in my long tenure as Product Manager is that tasks that have no champion in the organization often fall to Product Management by default. Support Escalations? Sales Hand Holding? Mopping up a production issue? And a literally endless list of shit work that just lands into the lap of product management. Just today, a sales manager called to ask for the answer to a question that a 2 second search of our documentation would answer.

Under classify the role. Most medium and larger sized companies use some form of the Radford codes to classify the role of Product Manager. Since “Product Manager” as usually defined is not available (at least the last time I had to go through the exercise), HR drones often classify it as what sounds similar. Project Manager. This is a much lower skilled role, often associated with a professional certification. The problem is that (in my region) skilled Project Managers with their PMP certification pull down $50K to $70K a year. Advertise for “Product Manager” candidates and offer that salary range, and you will hear crickets. Even in my neck of the woods, a good mid-career product manager should expect 6 figures. And that isn’t the Silicon Valley.

Constantly change the big picture. If you develop, and discard high level strategy plans every three months, your product management team will NEVER be able to execute. In the last year it has been all hands on: “Mobile applications”, then “Cloud”, then “Managed Services” and now we are back to Mobile applications. Work with product management to define the top level goals, then stick to them. You will be amazed at how that improves execution.

Foster infighting within the senior team. It may seem helpful to pit Sales vs. Marketing vs Product Management and watch them fight amongst themselves, but really that is draining. If you, as a senior leader (VP or GM of a business unit) truly believe that conflict between these groups is helpful, you need to go somewhere else. Yes, Sales and Marketing always fight (The leads are shit), but at the end of the day, they are both co-dependent, and your job should be to improve their collaboration. Not to insert Product Management as the glue in the fight.

Elevate a team member to the director role, but not backfill. Assume you have a product management team of 4 – 5 people. You have one ace, and you reward her with the title of Director of Product Manager. But, you have no budget to backfill their current role, running your top producing product line. So, instead of this being a career move, it becomes a nightmare. Suddenly, she finds herself managing 4 peers, probably one of whom is resentful that they didn’t get the title, AND, she has a full time-plus job of running a product. Guess what gets dropped? Yep, managing, mentoring, and coaching her new team. Eventually, she will escape and go to a company who will make them full time managers and top level direction setting, or will go back to being an individual contributor, forever tainted on the idea of management. And you will be bitter that someone that you elevated had the audacity to quit.

In short, regardless of the progress that has been achieved in the uniform definition and expansion of the Product Management role, there are still many destructive habits and practices that reduce the effectiveness, morale, and will eventually cause the team to implode. Then the senior leader will forevermore be certain that Product Management is a folly.

Perhaps the Dude has just been unlucky in his career stops, but he suspects that these are pervasive.

2015 update

The Dude is in a different company, hardware instead of software, but the actions and damaging tendencies are the same. Yep, this self-destructive practice is universal.

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