How do you lead your organization
using influence, not authority?
One of the greatest challenges of product management is the responsibility of fundamentally deciding the fate of your company’s product – the root of all revenues that pays everyone’s salary – without having any explicit authority over any of your colleagues. (Despite what the word “manager” means in many contexts, in this case, you’re not the boss.) In other words, your decisions affect others greatly, and they don’t have any reason to follow along unless you give them one. There lies the importance of influence, or actively rallying your colleagues behind a common vision for the future of your product, even when it doesn’t align perfectly with their own inclinations for where the product should head. For example, how do you convince a salesperson who was specifically hired to work with your company’s SMB prospects that targeting Fortune 500 companies with new enterprise functionality is the company’s best bet for long term success? His bonus, even his job security, may be on the line. But it’s still your job to win him over to your line of thinking if it’s in the product’s, and company’s, best interest. No one ever said this would be easy!
One key to successfully winning buy-in from colleagues is to seek their input early and often. From the earliest phases of the prioritization process you were likely collecting user feedback and feature ideas from customer-facing colleagues across the organization. Now it’s time to show them all of their contributions weren’t in vain! Share your plans with them and help them understand the criteria you used to make complex prioritization decisions and difficult tradeoffs. What are your biggest goals for the quarter? What initiatives will you be working on to address them? What phases will different groups of features be released in? When will they be available to users? How will this impact user behavior?
Depending on the type of product you work on, even prospects and customers will be interested in seeing the roadmap – particularly for complex b2b products with extended sales cycles, where end users are more likely to be highly involved with the intricacies of your product. In the case of a product like a marketing automation system that helps marketers manage their funnel, their livelihoods may even depend on it. Offering transparency into the decisionmaking behind your roadmap is a great way to excite users about the future of your product while collecting early feedback on features yet-to-be-developed.