The Product Newsletter #44

Welcome to our Product Newsletter, a biweekly email highlighting top discussions, and learning resources for product managers.

What We Will Cover In This Edition:-

Top Discussions: 

1) Combining Product Manager and Product Owner Roles.

2) Startup setup procedures.

3) How do you set limits without coming across as rigid?

Top Learning Resources:

1. How senior product managers think differently.

2. Your MVP is just the beginning.

3. The first principle of product management.

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Top Discussions

Question 1Combining Product Manager and Product Owner Roles

Hello all,

I’m curious if anyone has opinions about fusing the roles of product manager and product owner into one. (as in a single person handling both). especially in a huge organization with low product maturity.

Has anyone dealt with this in the past? If so, do you have any advice on how to make it work? Or should it simply be avoided altogether?

Any ideas or feedback are much appreciated.

– Bina Campos

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Discussion

A] I think I’m working on such a role. Being my first PM role, I have very little understanding of the difference. Would love for an experienced PM to break this down. Also, any tips for the above PMs?

– Heather Kurtz

B] PMs typically have less direct involvement in routine engineering tasks. Understanding the consumer, the competition, the market, pricing, packaging, and determining the types of innovations that will result in revenue growth are now our main priorities.

POs are typically more actively involved in daily engineering tasks. They place a greater emphasis on honing user stories, explaining to engineering what is in and what is out of scope, prioritising the product backlog, and other related tasks.
The PO is typically more focused on execution, whereas the PM is frequently more focused on the strategy end. The two frequently combine, although they frequently divide at some point.

  1. You are CERTAINLY a PO if you attend an engineering standup.
  2. You are DEFINITELY a PM if you provide a 9-month product strategy to sales.
  3. If you complete both, congratulations to you

– Karan Trivedi

C] I presently work both positions, which is difficult. 4 teams working on a large product. (Should be five teams, but staffing)

Therefore, I am part of my team’s execution level. I then have to assist the other three teams in comprehending the present and upcoming features. In addition, you need to find time to make endless presentations and learn about new features and epics.

We just held a planning gathering, and three teams simultaneously asked me to join their breakout. I wish I could take a step back from the execution and concentrate more on the approach. We can only hope that happens in the upcoming months.

– Damian Marshall

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Question 2) Startup setup procedures

I am a product manager for a startup in its early stages. Product management, engineering management, UI/UX design, product owner, etc. are among my responsibilities; I am also responsible for 3 customer-facing products (everything is now at the MVP stage), as well as internal tools.

I have now been informed that I must establish a proper procedure.
I’m writing user stories, conducting user interviews, creating PRDs, giving engineers assignments, etc.

However, I’ve been notified that as of right now, I’ve only added 20% of the process, and despite this, 80% of it isn’t up to par with their expectations. I would really appreciate any advice, articles, or experiences addressing how to put up a proper procedure that unites all the stakeholders.

– Bethan Grey

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Discussion

A] This is not an issue with product management. Understanding what your manager expects from you is the difficulty.

The product management position involves multiple hats, particularly in startups. Furthermore, it’s possible that the person you report to has little to no formal product management experience. For all we know, they might be anticipating that you’ll prepare coffee for the development team.
Go discuss what the other 80% is with them. What do they anticipate? What can I do to improve? Some of it might not be normal PM work. To get the organization to recognize the true value a PM offers to the team, you might need to educate and influence higher up. In a bigger organization, you might also need to perform tasks that other PMs don’t. Ultimately, the decision to perform that labor is yours to make.

Putting your roles and responsibilities in paper and promoting regular formal assessments against those standards are additional effective strategies. You don’t want a manager whose expectations are unclear and whose judgement of you is skewed by a variety of things that are unimportant to the role at hand.
Refer to Andy Grove’s High Output Management for more information on reviews and rubrics.

Best of luck!

– Dianne Stinger

B] Managing of engineering and production is a big task

For the product. market analysis, a roadmap, agile epics and stories, and meetings to reflect on each big public feature release. Select one or two issues from the retro to be fixed during the following release cycle. Your organization isn’t developed enough or staffed adequately to handle extra rules.

Find three to four procedures or rules (such as code reviews) on the development side that are similar in scope. That is up to you and them because I’m not a dev.
Only later, after you have divided the Dev and PM manager positions and recruited personnel, should you add more process to your lives.

Get something out there right away that people will buy.

– Nathan Endicott

C] And in his startup, that is precisely what will occur. From here, he can either request a promotion to a director position on the condition that he can employ more personnel to fill some of those functions and expand the organisation, or he can take the other course of action.

All of this is a normal aspect of starting a business and scaling an organisation. There is nothing wrong with this, but, as you say, expectations must be set. If his stakeholders have the necessary expertise, they need to already be in agreement and share the same viewpoints.

Although I wish his stakeholders knew what they were doing, I’ve been proven wrong far too often to believe that they do.

– Maria Wilson

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Question 3) How do you set limits without coming across as rigid?

I have a situation at work where the engineering manager I’m partnered with will disregard the first few weeks of a task we have to complete. Every time I set up an invite for us to discuss it, they either decline or show there, say they’ll help move the item forward async after, and then don’t deliver.

The day before the deadline, the engineering manager will finally grant time to complete the task and inform myself and the rest of the team that we did it incorrectly and that there is no time left to redo it. This comes after working with the rest of the team to complete the task two days before the deadline (so I have time to pre-align with stakeholders).

There is a pattern here, therefore this time I chose to defend myself rather than allow them to act like a bull in a china shop the day before deadlines. I advised the management that the job was finished and that it would be too late to change the course of events. The management disapproved but nevertheless did it. I was helpless because engineers work under their supervision. It is still my responsibility to report whether or not that assignment has been performed, and the engineering manager did not even meet with me to discuss how we might go about doing so.

I explained everything to my manager, who is more concerned with seeing that the assignment is completed than with doing anything to hold the engineering manager accountable, in the manner described above, with documentation and a time estimate. My manager, who is new to working with me and the emergency medical team, is accusing me of being rigid and wants this to end immediately.
The EM’s behavior needs to change, and I shouldn’t drop this because it’s a pattern, I asserted for the first time in my life.

In general, I guess, I want to do a better job of advocating for myself, but I also don’t want to come across as rigid, since it may kind of ruin my career.
Has anyone faced a situation like this before, or more generally, been able to set clear limits without alienating their EM or, regrettably, their new manager?

– Lawrence Martin

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Discussion

A] You should set up checkpoints, in my opinion. Similar problems came up with my engineering team. They would tell me that the feature was very simple to create, but just before they began to implement it, they would change it completely. I informed my engineering manager, but nothing could be done.

One of my mentors advised me to develop a proper Define, Design, Develop, and Delivery process. Establish checkpoints at each stage. For each checkpoint meeting, be sure to record the names of the key stakeholders and a task list. Send a recording of the check point meetings to everyone.

If they later claim that the assignment has not been completed, you can provide your deck and hold your EM accountable.

– Priya Verma

B] When your manager doesn’t support you, it can be difficult to hold people accountable for actions.

There are a few options available to you:

  • Note everything down. Keep a record of the exchange in which the EM gave you the chronology; Record any meetings that are denied, Record assertions that something is improperly done, Record the actual completion date as well as any design adjustments that were made (such as anything you requested that wasn’t included or something they decided to add that you didn’t want, etc.). Once that is finished, review it. Consider whether you think it’s okay, then speak with your manager once again. Ask your manager what constitutes “acceptable” lateness and demonstrate any/all instances where the EM overly prolonged the project.
  • A lesson I picked up from a marital book. Ask the EM manager what you can do to solve this problem and be yourself when speaking with him. It is very challenging for me to keep my promises to the sales team once deadlines are missed and the entire job needs to be redone. It also leaves me with a negative impression. How am I contributing to these problems, and what can I do to ensure that we reach these deadlines? In order for us to keep on the same page, I had anticipated that regular meetings to discuss the project would be beneficial. However, I recognize that you are busy and don’t need ANOTHER appointment on your calendar.

– Gerald Kolan

C] I get the impression that the EM is uncomfortable with your strategy but is unable to address it in a constructive manner.

I can come up with two possibilities:

  1. Product Managers frequently have to take on a variety of duties in order to accomplish their goals, thus it’s simple to pick up the automatic behaviors of others in one team. Try to comprehend what the EM’s function is in addition to line management and how the EM sees their own function. Think about whether some of what you’re trying to do or doing overlaps with how the EM sees things. If that’s the case, figure out a way to politely withdraw and let them finish.
  2. The vision and/or strategy you are pursuing are not shared by EM. EM might not feel as though they have a way to contribute or offer feedback, or they might not believe they have been at least taken into account and things are being pushed down his throat and the throats of the team. Perhaps holding a high-level meeting with the EM to discuss the Vision and Strategy and actively solicit their opinion, without addressing it in that meeting but rather just listening in and probing deeply into their worries since they might be reserved.

– Malcolm Sequeira

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Top Learning Resources

So this article isn’t about how to get promoted to senior PM, but about how to advance your thinking and become a better PM. Anyone can think like a senior PM regardless of their title — and just because one has the senior PM title, doesn’t mean they truly deserve it.

Those who fail to understand what an MVP really is are doomed to reinvent it. In some organizations, the minimum viable product (MVP) is enshrined as a deliverable of particular importance, whether it’s a focus for project planning or the item that’s handed off from one team to another. At one such organization, we were responsible for delivering a fairly complex product. We recognized that there was a lot we didn’t know about how one important group of users would use it, and without knowing that, we were left with big questions about how the rest of the product should work.

First principle thinking helps PMs because as companies scale, communicating the rationale behind historical, current, and future decisions can be simplified in a way that their team and stakeholders can rally around. This enables people around the PM to move quickly in the same direction, decouple, and make smart trade offs without their presence.

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