Roadmap on Fire because of CEO
Roadmap on Fire because of CEO

4 worst-case scenarios as a PM and how to overcome them

4 worst-case scenarios as a PM and how to overcome them

Aug 19, 2023

Aug 19, 2023

Working in an agency, I've had the opportunity to get up close with those typical cases that put Product Managers through a tough time. I knew very well that once I conquered those challenges, my experience as a PM would improve significantly. Ultimately, one of the reasons I ventured into Agency PM was to encounter as many scenarios as possible and learn from them.

During those moments when the tempting thought of hitting the quit button crossed my mind, I had a great manager who assisted me in overcoming those hurdles. For those who haven't yet found a good manager, today I'm sharing my insights on 4 common scenarios where being a PM is more of a patience exercise, and how to navigate them with resilience ✊.

As a Product Manager, you'll encounter numerous complex situations. Many of them, like the one above, can directly impact an essential part of your work in the short, medium, and long term.

There are scenarios that, if left unresolved, might lead you to consider updating your CV/Resume. The more severe ones could end up affecting your performance and even how your effectiveness is perceived.

Losing credibility as a PM due to unresolved company or team conflicts is truly unfortunate.

Because we're not the kind of people who shy away from problems, let's begin with one of the most common ones.

Scenario 1 - Your CEO dictates your roadmap πŸ—Ί

Many times, I've heard fellow PM colleagues complain about the CEO constantly influencing the Roadmap. This can lead to frustration because changing direction requires effort, a new understanding of what needs to be done, and more importantly, it can feel like we've wasted time.

And you know what? It's completely normal for CEOs to want to have a say in the Roadmap. Why? Because they're CEOs; they care deeply about their company. They want things to go well. Until recently, they were doing the same work that you, as a PM, are now doing, so it's natural for them to be the ones suggesting changes.

How to improve this situation if you find it frustrating?

  1. Put Egos Aside: This is undoubtedly the most important step before taking any action. Just because this is happening doesn't mean the CEO lacks trust in the PM's work, so there's no need to become defensive. Some individuals seem to have an aversion to ideas that don't come from top to bottom, and this, my friends, is a mistake. To understand the CEO's attitude, we need to set our egos aside.

  2. Request More Context: Now that ego is understood, similar to dealing with other stakeholders, ask the CEO for more context to comprehend the origin of the idea, why they believe it's important for us to work on it, what market signals led them to think we should pursue it, etc.

  3. Embrace the CEO's Enthusiasm: Generally, if they're CEOs of startups, they have an entrepreneurial profile that drives them to seek new ideas, processes, and ways to assist their users. In this case, they are Driver stakeholders, which is great for PMs because they're always eager to push new and good ideas. Use this to your advantageβ€”don't undermine them. Revisit point two, and request more context.

  4. Build a Trusted Relationship: Just like with all individuals, if we give ourselves the opportunity to understand the other party, over time, collaboration becomes smoother, and conflicts diminish. We don't want to become the "No" person even before conversations begin. Remember, empathy is your greatest ally 😊.

Final reminder in case you've forgotten:

Just because the CEO asks for something doesn't mean it has to happen immediately. Discuss it, ask questions, propose prior experimentation. And one more thing, they are the CEO after all 😜.

Scenario 2 - The company evaluates Product performance based on released features rather than achieved impact πŸ™‰

Product culture is a relatively "new" concept when we stop to consider it. There are executives and stakeholders who have been working for a long time without Product being at the center of value. So, it's only natural that from time to time, we encounter a company that has a different understanding of what Product impact means.

In B2B environments, this sensation can sometimes be exacerbated because, for Sales, we always seem to be one feature away from acquiring that wonderful client who will make our quarter.

This perspective might also stem from IT, where the CTO or a similar individual with a more IT-oriented background views the process as a "launch and go" service, rather than seeing it as a continuously evolving Product.

How can we shift away from this misguided way of measuring impact?

  • Articulate the value of a Product-centric approach towards the end goal: This might seem quite obvious, yet it's easily forgotten. You can employ various rituals to explain how the process you've followed has contributed to enhancing the impact on X metric. The secret lies in repetition until it finally sinks in for everyone. Presentations, newsletters, loom videos – there are myriad ways to communicate. Experiment and gauge what works best for your team, and don't cease. Our value isn't measured by the number of features released.

  • Not everything has to be an experiment, and everyone else should be aware of this: Experimentation is in our PM DNA, and sometimes excessive experimentation can impede delivery. Consequently, it's normal for certain teams to believe that rapid releases equate to smooth progress. To address this, communication needs to be reinforced once again. It's our responsibility as PMs:

    • Convey that we're maintaining an Agile mindset. Not everything necessitates a 4-week Discovery phase.

    • Highlight that what we launch is more crucial than how much we launch. Utilize the strategies mentioned earlier – presentations, rituals, etc.

Both active and passive communication about our perception of Impact and the measures we take to generate it will help our Stakeholders comprehend why we place such significance on it.

Scenario 3 - You're asked for a 1-year Roadmap πŸ”Ž

One valuable lesson we've learned from the COVID pandemic is that external factors can impact our plans more significantly than our Roadmap. A clear illustration of this comes from Ben RetournΓ©, VP of Product at BlaBlaCar, who discussed navigating Product Management during times of crisis – specifically, the COVID era.

However, not everyone must adhere to the notion of crafting lengthy roadmaps. Certain departments or C-level executives might still request a roadmap spanning a year ahead. This contradicts the essence of the PM mindset and can unnecessarily induce stress over something that could undergo substantial changes within just six months.

Consequently, how can we address this situation?

  • Communication as a Guiding Principle: One thing is clear; change won't happen overnight. Making a consistent effort to communicate the benefits of a shorter roadmap should become your new mantra. Nevertheless, it's crucial to grasp the underlying reasons behind this request to know when or when not to push the conversation. The ultimate solution should be a collaborative one.

  • If you can't shift the mindset: Divide and conquer. Many ambitious initiatives can be broken down into smaller, iterative actions within the roadmap. If you find that influencing this aspect directly is challenging, this becomes your best approach.

If we view the Roadmap as the narrative outlining our journey over time to reach the goals we've set, it becomes easier for us to modify elements of the story if necessary. It's this mindset that we should strive to convey to our stakeholders.

Scenario 4 - Inability to Engage with the End Customer πŸ™…πŸ½β€β™‚οΈ

In this scenario, it's important to emphasize the distinctions between B2B and B2C contexts.

In the case of B2B, it's common for Sales to act as a gatekeeper, restricting our access to direct conversations with end customers. This is often due to a fear that the client relationship might be jeopardized by statements made during these conversations or false promises of "we will improve X."

On the other hand, in the B2C scenario, the filter can stem from internal forces within the company who believe that conducting Discovery is a waste of time, and they solely prioritize Delivery.

How can we bring about a change in this situation?

  • B2B: Turn your Enemy into an Ally - The short answer is to transform Sales into our ally. How? I recommend that you thoroughly read Scenario 1 from the previous post. 😜

  • B2C: Adjust Your Experimentation Mindset - As mentioned in point two of Scenario 2, not everything needs to be an experiment. As PMs, we need to know when and how to approach Discovery in a way that's most effective for our company. Not everything has to involve Generative Research; utilize the existing data within the company.

Conclusions πŸ™†πŸ½β€β™‚οΈ

No matter what you're going through, remember the following:

  • Nothing lasts forever – neither the good nor the bad times.

  • Most problems arise from miscommunication, whether it's about understanding the goals or issues of the other party.

  • A good manager is crucial in learning how to navigate these moments.

  • Lean on your peers if you find yourself feeling isolated.

  • With time, wounds heal. Yes, it's possible to learn not to panic the next time we encounter a similar situation.

Remember that growth comes from learning and adapting, and with each experience, you become better equipped to handle challenges and uncertainties.

Working in an agency, I've had the opportunity to get up close with those typical cases that put Product Managers through a tough time. I knew very well that once I conquered those challenges, my experience as a PM would improve significantly. Ultimately, one of the reasons I ventured into Agency PM was to encounter as many scenarios as possible and learn from them.

During those moments when the tempting thought of hitting the quit button crossed my mind, I had a great manager who assisted me in overcoming those hurdles. For those who haven't yet found a good manager, today I'm sharing my insights on 4 common scenarios where being a PM is more of a patience exercise, and how to navigate them with resilience ✊.

As a Product Manager, you'll encounter numerous complex situations. Many of them, like the one above, can directly impact an essential part of your work in the short, medium, and long term.

There are scenarios that, if left unresolved, might lead you to consider updating your CV/Resume. The more severe ones could end up affecting your performance and even how your effectiveness is perceived.

Losing credibility as a PM due to unresolved company or team conflicts is truly unfortunate.

Because we're not the kind of people who shy away from problems, let's begin with one of the most common ones.

Scenario 1 - Your CEO dictates your roadmap πŸ—Ί

Many times, I've heard fellow PM colleagues complain about the CEO constantly influencing the Roadmap. This can lead to frustration because changing direction requires effort, a new understanding of what needs to be done, and more importantly, it can feel like we've wasted time.

And you know what? It's completely normal for CEOs to want to have a say in the Roadmap. Why? Because they're CEOs; they care deeply about their company. They want things to go well. Until recently, they were doing the same work that you, as a PM, are now doing, so it's natural for them to be the ones suggesting changes.

How to improve this situation if you find it frustrating?

  1. Put Egos Aside: This is undoubtedly the most important step before taking any action. Just because this is happening doesn't mean the CEO lacks trust in the PM's work, so there's no need to become defensive. Some individuals seem to have an aversion to ideas that don't come from top to bottom, and this, my friends, is a mistake. To understand the CEO's attitude, we need to set our egos aside.

  2. Request More Context: Now that ego is understood, similar to dealing with other stakeholders, ask the CEO for more context to comprehend the origin of the idea, why they believe it's important for us to work on it, what market signals led them to think we should pursue it, etc.

  3. Embrace the CEO's Enthusiasm: Generally, if they're CEOs of startups, they have an entrepreneurial profile that drives them to seek new ideas, processes, and ways to assist their users. In this case, they are Driver stakeholders, which is great for PMs because they're always eager to push new and good ideas. Use this to your advantageβ€”don't undermine them. Revisit point two, and request more context.

  4. Build a Trusted Relationship: Just like with all individuals, if we give ourselves the opportunity to understand the other party, over time, collaboration becomes smoother, and conflicts diminish. We don't want to become the "No" person even before conversations begin. Remember, empathy is your greatest ally 😊.

Final reminder in case you've forgotten:

Just because the CEO asks for something doesn't mean it has to happen immediately. Discuss it, ask questions, propose prior experimentation. And one more thing, they are the CEO after all 😜.

Scenario 2 - The company evaluates Product performance based on released features rather than achieved impact πŸ™‰

Product culture is a relatively "new" concept when we stop to consider it. There are executives and stakeholders who have been working for a long time without Product being at the center of value. So, it's only natural that from time to time, we encounter a company that has a different understanding of what Product impact means.

In B2B environments, this sensation can sometimes be exacerbated because, for Sales, we always seem to be one feature away from acquiring that wonderful client who will make our quarter.

This perspective might also stem from IT, where the CTO or a similar individual with a more IT-oriented background views the process as a "launch and go" service, rather than seeing it as a continuously evolving Product.

How can we shift away from this misguided way of measuring impact?

  • Articulate the value of a Product-centric approach towards the end goal: This might seem quite obvious, yet it's easily forgotten. You can employ various rituals to explain how the process you've followed has contributed to enhancing the impact on X metric. The secret lies in repetition until it finally sinks in for everyone. Presentations, newsletters, loom videos – there are myriad ways to communicate. Experiment and gauge what works best for your team, and don't cease. Our value isn't measured by the number of features released.

  • Not everything has to be an experiment, and everyone else should be aware of this: Experimentation is in our PM DNA, and sometimes excessive experimentation can impede delivery. Consequently, it's normal for certain teams to believe that rapid releases equate to smooth progress. To address this, communication needs to be reinforced once again. It's our responsibility as PMs:

    • Convey that we're maintaining an Agile mindset. Not everything necessitates a 4-week Discovery phase.

    • Highlight that what we launch is more crucial than how much we launch. Utilize the strategies mentioned earlier – presentations, rituals, etc.

Both active and passive communication about our perception of Impact and the measures we take to generate it will help our Stakeholders comprehend why we place such significance on it.

Scenario 3 - You're asked for a 1-year Roadmap πŸ”Ž

One valuable lesson we've learned from the COVID pandemic is that external factors can impact our plans more significantly than our Roadmap. A clear illustration of this comes from Ben RetournΓ©, VP of Product at BlaBlaCar, who discussed navigating Product Management during times of crisis – specifically, the COVID era.

However, not everyone must adhere to the notion of crafting lengthy roadmaps. Certain departments or C-level executives might still request a roadmap spanning a year ahead. This contradicts the essence of the PM mindset and can unnecessarily induce stress over something that could undergo substantial changes within just six months.

Consequently, how can we address this situation?

  • Communication as a Guiding Principle: One thing is clear; change won't happen overnight. Making a consistent effort to communicate the benefits of a shorter roadmap should become your new mantra. Nevertheless, it's crucial to grasp the underlying reasons behind this request to know when or when not to push the conversation. The ultimate solution should be a collaborative one.

  • If you can't shift the mindset: Divide and conquer. Many ambitious initiatives can be broken down into smaller, iterative actions within the roadmap. If you find that influencing this aspect directly is challenging, this becomes your best approach.

If we view the Roadmap as the narrative outlining our journey over time to reach the goals we've set, it becomes easier for us to modify elements of the story if necessary. It's this mindset that we should strive to convey to our stakeholders.

Scenario 4 - Inability to Engage with the End Customer πŸ™…πŸ½β€β™‚οΈ

In this scenario, it's important to emphasize the distinctions between B2B and B2C contexts.

In the case of B2B, it's common for Sales to act as a gatekeeper, restricting our access to direct conversations with end customers. This is often due to a fear that the client relationship might be jeopardized by statements made during these conversations or false promises of "we will improve X."

On the other hand, in the B2C scenario, the filter can stem from internal forces within the company who believe that conducting Discovery is a waste of time, and they solely prioritize Delivery.

How can we bring about a change in this situation?

  • B2B: Turn your Enemy into an Ally - The short answer is to transform Sales into our ally. How? I recommend that you thoroughly read Scenario 1 from the previous post. 😜

  • B2C: Adjust Your Experimentation Mindset - As mentioned in point two of Scenario 2, not everything needs to be an experiment. As PMs, we need to know when and how to approach Discovery in a way that's most effective for our company. Not everything has to involve Generative Research; utilize the existing data within the company.

Conclusions πŸ™†πŸ½β€β™‚οΈ

No matter what you're going through, remember the following:

  • Nothing lasts forever – neither the good nor the bad times.

  • Most problems arise from miscommunication, whether it's about understanding the goals or issues of the other party.

  • A good manager is crucial in learning how to navigate these moments.

  • Lean on your peers if you find yourself feeling isolated.

  • With time, wounds heal. Yes, it's possible to learn not to panic the next time we encounter a similar situation.

Remember that growth comes from learning and adapting, and with each experience, you become better equipped to handle challenges and uncertainties.

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Click here to check what I offer 😊

Β© 2023 Jorge Herna

Β© 2023 Jorge Herna

Β© 2023 Jorge Herna