The last "proper" boss for our team (portfolio management, but really product management)  left in late summer 2019, and our group director opted to manage us directly. This sorta made sense, as he was new to the company - just 3 months at the time - and his direct involvement with the team was a good way to come up to speed. Of course, he had a req to replace this line manager that he sat on (more on this later).

The setup

Naturally, as the "senior" member of the team (well, technically, there is one person with more seniority, but everyone - and I do mean EVERYONE - views the Dude as the go to for all things around the portfolio and product) we became close collaborators. I provided a lot of guidance, tips, and assistance in how to deal with the day to day, as well as the strategy. How this worked out over the nearly 2 years it remained the case was that I was viewed as the "shadow" manager of the team. The other team members would come to me for guidance and support, and I offered it freely, gaining respect and trust. Both within, and between different groups. Really, this is one of the Dude's strengths, and if you think about the role of product management, we manage via influence, building consensus, and bringing disparate parties together.

All in a day's work.

But in early 2021, the world rocked. A leader was ousted, and a group that was forcibly merged with us was ripped back out and put elsewhere (yay), and after the shakeup, our group lead (director level) was given control of virtually all our production. Essentially all of the groups except for operations, and sales were consolidated (n.b. the Dude is really against this level of concentration at our level) and suddenly our leader no longer had any time for us (product) at all.

We all suffered. Five months later, and it was bad, really really bad. We (product) needed a leader who could give us more than 15 minutes of attention every 3rd week.

During the leadership interregnum, I had a couple of candid talks with the leader. I made it abundantly clear that I was not interested in a promotion to manage the team. While I had the experience and the skills, as well as the respect from my team members (hell, they all lobbied for me to be the new "boss") I knew that it would make me miserable.

That said, we needed a leader who could focus on the team, building great products, and dealing with the other key stakeholders. Clearly our "boss" wasn't able to do that, and I reluctantly said that I would be willing with some conditions (mainly, I would need to hire a strong replacement for me, because I knew the "manager" role would be drawn into a lot of political wrangling, and similar mundane banalities of large companies.

But, that call never came (and, honestly, the Dude's rather thankful that it didn't.) It turns out that the new VP felt that our team (product) didn't have enough technical chops, and our director was tired of getting the crap kicked out of him.

The new Boss

So, he dug deep into his new, expanded organization, and grabbed an engineering lead. On the plus side, the new boss already had people management experience, a big benefit in a large company. But on the downside is that he has never been a product manager, or done any sort of inbound marketing/product research.

A true blank slate.

I bet you think the Dude is going to rant. But he isn't. Sure, it would be great if he had some realization of what life in the product management trenches is like. But, he has an ace up his sleeve in the Dude.

In less than 3 months, the Dude has built a solid relationship with his new boss. The new boss is rather adept at the intergroup politics game, far better than the Dude would be, a huge plus.

After three months, the new boss has a much better grasp for what we do, and how it is like the connective tissue of the organization, making things work, holding all the chaotic cats together.

What about the domain depth from the VP?

Recall that the VP was beating the Director that there wasn't enough domain knowledge in product? Yeah, they still bitch that we aren't engineers.

They seem to fetishize the role/concept/idea of engineering. A talent review was done as part of the annual review/merit process, and what the Dude hears is that < 10% of the budget of RSUs, bonus, and merit increases will be allocated to staff without "engineer" in their titles. That is the 3/4 of the business that isn't an engineer will share in 10% of the awards, and the 25% of the team with engineer in their titles will be showered with manna from heaven.

It is so bad, that the leader has created a job req for a Director of Engineering that reads like Business Development. As in no coding, no creating, no engineering. All to reward someone they have identified to fill this role (for the record, the Dude fucking HATES job reqs that are targeted at an individual,  so that nobody but that one person can remotely fill it. And in this case it is for an ex-Consultant who whispers sweet nothings in our VP's ears that are complete and total bullshit)

What about the Dude?

The Dude's old boss, the director, did him a solid just before the new manager was brought in. He got a nearly 10% raise, a boost in grade level, and a respectable chunk of RSU's.

For now, the Dude's doing well. He gets to greatly influence the team - albeit indirectly - and he is coaching his new boss, and his new boss is taking the coaching willingly, as well as learning that product management isn't a bullshit make-work position that sits around BBQing unicorn in the marketing hallway.

Finally - what about that replacement req?

If you ever have worked in a large company, you are likely aware that as a people leader, when you get a req to add staff, or replace staff, that the req has a very limited lifetime. Savvy managers will just jump all over getting it filled.

Why you might ask? Simple: It is because reqs that aren't filled will be pulled. A small retreat in stock price? Req pulled. Someone else argues they need it more? Req pulled and reassigned.

In short, you do not dally once you get the req. You spend as much time as you can with recruiters, reviewing resumes, and making a decision. You learn that you will never find the perfect person (well, you can, but if you take the time it requires, yep, you guessed it, req pulled) so you squint, and look for good enough, and work to mold them to what you need.

Totally suboptimal, and unfair, but that is big company policies for you. My Director friend who decided that managing us for a period of time to get a good feel for the team and the role was dooming him to not being able to replace the manager who left. Huge unforced error.


Like what you are reading? Subscribe now to get notified via email for new posts. Always free. Click to Subscribe