Warped Priorities

Product Management is a powerful position in an organization, but it isn't without limits. Processes are documented and adopted for reasons that might seem obscure, but are important to the functioning of an org. Don't fight them.

The Dude has been fortunate enough throughout his career to have worked at several companies, and with literally scores of other product managers, and throughout all this, he has seen some bizarre behaviors. Sometimes the product managers are poorly cast into the role, without either the management support, or the raw skills needed, or sometimes they fail to grasp the importance of the role, or they mistake it as being the CEO of the product (that trope needs to DIE already). Or they don't get the whole matrixed responsibilities thing, and treat support staff as indentured servants (hint: they aren't, and they aren't directly under your management sphere).

But the one practice that drives the Dude nuts is when they rebel at the process. The incompetent product manager will dis a process so much, and harbor so much animosity against the process that they will spend literally 3x the time trying to avoid a process they feel is "dumb" or "misguided" than just following the process.

While the Dude at times chafes at process, particularly when that process seems to slow things down. (PLC Stage Gates are a particular pain point), the Dude still follows the processes that are documented.

As a company evolves, processes and documented processes are added at various junctures. Some, like the aforementioned PLC is meant to ensure that new product development has some checks and balances. At the key stage gate checkpoints, the Product Manager is expected to hold a cross functional meeting, including the senior leadership, to report on progress, alignment to the organization's goals, and to allow for any course corrections that are needed. Perhaps a market segment changed, or a competitive threat appeared. Or any of another issues that might imperil the program.

For much of the senior leadership team, this is your chance to reevaluate the program, and ensure that the investment is still worthy, and make any -adjustments. Almost as important, and something that is often not recognized, these stage gates are an opportunity to halt a program that isn't going well, or if the business need it was originally intended to address has disappeared.

Trust the Dude on this, you want to get all of that aired out, and let the C-suite make the call. Blindly charging ahead when your product development becomes untenable leads to some really bad things in the future.

But time and again, the Dude sees peers, and other product managers try to avoid the process. Are they scared of having to face a VP or SVP? Is there a personality conflict that they are avoiding? Regardless, to a senior leader in the organization, if a Product Manager is trying to avoid an established process that is documented, and required, that is a red flag. It isn't being edgy, and trying to use "Agile" as an excuse to not follow the documented procedure is a bad idea.

  • Process is established to cure a problem - No two organizations that the Dude has worked for have had the same processes and procedures documented. That is largely because at different times in the evolution of the business, there has been events (ok, usually they are giant fuck-ups) that spur the creation of formalized processes. Perhaps a disastrous development process. Or a spectacular market failure, or some ethical or legal troubles (like selling to a pharma company without having the right regulatory approvals). Regardless, the processes that were put in place are there for a reason.

  • You are not being picked on - As the Dude listens to peers bitch about the process (do I have to get an NDA to have that discussion? - YES) he hears people feeling persecuted. Their autonomy and authority are abridged, and if the damn managers would just get out of the way, they could get so much more done. Some even take it personally. "It's like they don;t trust me..." To that, the Dude has one thing to say. "Grow up". Being an adult means that you have responsibilities, and rules to follow. If you dont like it, leave (but the Dude will bet dollars against donuts that regardless of where you go, there will be process that feels unbearable). The processes aren't in place to make your life miserable, although it may seem that way, but they are there to address something that went wrong in the past. If they require that your proforma forecast and revenue projections are reviewed by the company controller, that means that sometime in the past someone fucked up big time, and wasted a lot of money. Grow up and take responsibility, or find a lower level job. Hint: if you do that, you will have far less autonomy, and your role will be far more proscriptive.

  • Suck it up - Just do what is documented and expected. Yes, you can discuss why you feel it is non-productive, or it retards the progress of development, and you might end up making some changes for the better. But quietly sabotaging, and spending 10 hours to avoid 2 hours of reporting work is not a useful use of your time. Philosophy be damned. If you want no constraints, start your own company. If you aren't willing or able to do that, then shut up and do the work.

  • Don't be a Dick about it - All too often, the Dude sees one person consistently tilting at the process windmill. Over and over, in staff meeting after staff meeting. It gets to the point of everybody else in the room's eyes rolling, and then losing their attention. But those who chafe the most at process often can't help their tirades. They will channel it at the leadership, at personalities who are unpleasant to work with, at peers, who don't support their utopian view of Product Management power and authority. But that just turns people off.


If you find yourself chafing at the discomfort that process places on your role as product manager, you will not be unique. You might have valid gripes, but just bitching about it, and trying as hard as you can to avoid following the processes isn't a brave position to be in, it is a foolish one. You will lose the battle, and you will lose support within the organization, and your peers will sneer at you behind closed doors.

Do try to improve processes, but don't expect that your opposition and well reasoned objections will win the day. Processes were adopted and documented for a reason, a reason that might not seem relevant, but that doesn't matter. They are the law, and if you want to remain gainfully employed, keep your bitching to yourself.

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