A Product Manager’s Guide for Leading a Team

When you’re managing a valuable product, working and listening to stakeholders, team members, and customers is crucial and could make or break your product. As a product manager, I interact with over 20 people a day; each person is unique, with different backgrounds, roles, industries and stories. My job revolves around probing for problems our clients want to solve and figuring out elegant consumer focused ways to meet their needs. This requires collaboration with Design, UX, Engineering and Implementation.

It’s a hard job to take feedback from various sources, carefully sift through it and then distill it into a solution. It takes practice and discipline to be neutral and not let your opinion influence the outcome. Getting to the right solution often involves critical and creative thinking. In this process It’s easy to get stressed, distracted, and develop tunnel vision.

My fellow product managers and I came up with tool kit that helps us get through tough negotiations and ensures we stay focused on the end goal. Some of the strategies that help us are:

Focus on the Story: Every client has a story or problem they are trying to solve. Figure it out or, better yet, ask what motivates, frustrates and blocks them.

Don’t React: Sometimes emotions are triggered and buttons get pushed, when this happens practice writing it down and not reacting. When you listen and take stock without reacting during difficult conversations, you can have a measured / strategic reaction at a later time with all the facts at hand.

Practice Deep Listening: We see the world through our lens, so when we hear someone speak, we hear what we want to hear and ignore the rest. Take notes during the conversation, let them tell their story. Hear without judgment.

Support Group: Talk to a buddy or co-worker about the problem, or ask them for help. Strategize and gather feedback. Sometimes outsiders help us discard our lens and look at the problem differently. Ask how they would tackle the situation.

Delegate the Problem: Sometimes it’s great to outsource the problem or issue to someone else. If you have this secret weapon, use it! Partner with SMES and coworkers to help brainstorm and develop a solution.

Prioritize: Prioritize feedback and problems you are going to deal with and have a plan of action. Sometimes it’s better to pick your battles and let your list of priorities help you dictate what’s worth fighting for.

Mistakes Happen: Acknowledge, fix and move on. If there was a misstep, apologize, acknowledge the fault and move on to the next thing.

Take One Step at a Time: “Rome wasn’t built in a day…” When tackling a big problem remember to breathe and take it one step, one day at a time.

Develop a Mantra: Develop a word or phrase to get you through the difficult moments; remember that this too shall pass and you’ll get through it. Roll with the punches during difficult times.

Take a Break: You don’t have to solve the problem on the spot. Take time to think, get counsel or find other people who can solve it. Taking a break sometimes helps you see the issue from a different perspective.

When I pitched “Managing Difficult Stakeholders” at Product Camp Portland 2016, I didn’t expect it to be such a popular topic. This session helped me connect to product managers, designers and customers in Portland community. It also helped me understand that I was not alone and diversity helped me add more negotiation tools to my toolkit.

Pitching this session also helped me get over my fear of speaking in front of 300+ people. I would encourage you to not only attend a product camp next year, but also to be brave and pitch your own successes, tools and ideas for product management.