More than a decade of grousing about product management

If you want to flame out in Product …

ethnic businessman shaking hand of applicant in office
Photo by Sora Shimazaki on

Piss off an executive admin and face the consequences.

… piss off an executive admin.

The Dude got to do a coaching session with a peer yesterday. Apparently, he got in a pissing match with someone who had indirect power. And this person began to make his life miserable (n.b.: all the women PM’s I know get this without coaching, it is always a man who needs this lesson) via all their tentacles of influence.

The Dude will come out and say this up front:

Administrative assistants are gate keepers, and brokers of access to the levers of power within an organization. Get on their good side, and groom that relationship if you want to survive.

The Product Management conundrum is that we have great ideas, can shepherd a development team/effort to great things, but unless you are at a very small company, you need executive support to get anything accomplished. That means that you have to get approval, budget, and support to move forward a product effort.

Sure, most companies have their version of “bowling for dollars” where all business units and functional groups pitch their ideas to the executive leaders. But just relying on your charm, great financials, and a snazzy pitch is a sucker’s game.

Success in harvesting these dollars comes from gaining an executive sponsor. Someone who will carry you along, someone who has political capital, someone who is on your side.

How do you get this level of stakeholder engagement?

If you guessed that you start with their executive admin (EA), pat yourself on the back.


Why indeed. The EA owns their calendar. They control (indirectly) who gets access to that executive. The executive will often confer with their EA, and ask their advice. The EA is the eyes and ears of the executive in the organization.

Guess what happens when you antagonize, or belittle the lowly EA?

Back to the coaching

Alas, the Dude did get it through this product manager’s head that his bull-in-the-China-shop approach has alienated key people, including the natural sponsoring executive. Further, he failed to pick up on the power that the EA had, as well as the person who is our liaison for branding.

This might be too much to recover from. We shall see if a) the lesson is learnt, and b) that he can atone with hat in hand.

Written by

A crusty veteran from the product management trenches. Plenty of salty language, references to cannabis, and a connoisseur of White Russian cocktails

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Written by pmdude