True Confessions from the Front Lines

By Mike Belsito August 12, 2019

We meet all sorts of product professionals at Product Collective, and they have all sorts of stories. With thousands of product people from around the world participating in our INDUSTRY Interview live video chats, conversing in our private Slack channels and attending our INDUSTRY conferences, we often hear them lamenting the variety of issues they face every day.

But it made me think, “What aren’t they telling us?” So, I decided to find out. 

I engaged our Product Collective community of more than 20,000 product people and asked them to confess things—through an anonymous outlet—about their work that they might not otherwise be comfortable sharing. These confessions could be about their typical day, their experience working with a variety of teams … anything. Following are some of their responses, and some food for thought.

Prioritization of work often is decided by the loudest voice, not what will deliver the most value to customers.

  • Chief Product Officer

As product people, we know that the loudest person in the room shouldn’t be the one to drive priorities. But the reality is, it happens. While it’s easy to think that less experienced product professionals would let this happen, would it surprise you to know that seasoned product leaders are still vulnerable to this trap? Have you considered that this may not always be a bad thing? 

The loudest person in the room may be a senior executive or sales professional. In these cases, these voices may be the ones who are frequently in front of customers. Are they being loud about a product or feature that is strategically right for the company? Or are they simply advocating passionately about a feature a customer is begging for, but may not be the right one to offer? When we automatically give in to the loudest person, it can be hard to know.

 

I suggest features or strategies adjacent to the one I really want. I do this to trigger my team or stakeholders to arrive at what I’m looking for—but make them feel like they’re doing it on their own. It feels manipulative, but I get the results and buy-in that I want.

  • Product Manager

Opinions from team members and stakeholders should be valued and respected. But my guess is that a lot of people have also used this strategy—either consciously or subconsciously. If we have a strong intuition about something, it’s natural for us to try to coax others into seeing things our way. One of the best ways do that is to plant seeds for ideas to take root, and then have our team members believe we’re seeing things their way. 

Should product professionals actively, consciously manipulate their teams and stakeholders? Certainly not. After all, input from the rest of the team will help make what we’re building better. But this strategy can work to produce the desired results.

 

Product managers are not the CEO of the product.

  • Product Manager

Some product managers like to call themselves the CEO of Product. It’s a title that exudes importance. But here’s the thing: Product managers aren’t the CEOs of anything. It’s true that we have influence over product decisions, we seek customer insights and we corral our internal teams to make sure we’re making progress on building a product. But we’re not CEOs.

CEOs set high-level strategy. They’re responsible for ensuring that the right team members are in the right places—and they have the authority to fire them if they’re not. CEOs don’t have influence; they have authority.

This isn’t to say that a product manager’s job isn’t important. The right product manager can make all the difference in a company’s ability to consistently produce profitable products that customers want and need. But product managers aren’t CEOs—they’re product managers.

 

Secrets are power.

  • Startup Managing Director

This is a meta confession, as it suggests that the notion of having secrets in the first place equates to having some level of power. The individual who made this confession went on to suggest that the power someone wields when having and keeping a secret can be good or bad—it’s all up to the person who has the secret.

Have you ever put some extra padding into your budget to ensure you’re covered when starting a project? Have you ever intentionally underpromised because you know you’ll overdeliver and earn goodwill? Have you ever chosen “friendly” KPIs that you knew would help results look more favorable? 

We’ve probably all made decisions like these, and they haven’t been made with malicious intent. Yet, these still are the types of decisions that involve a secret that we’re using to our advantage.

 

It All Comes Down to People

What can we make from these confessions? The big takeaway is, product people are just that: people. Like everyone else, we’re not immune to the human tendencies to have a few secrets. And yes, those secrets can equate to power—with the outcome hopefully being to make better products for everyone.

Mike Belsito

Mike Belsito

Mike Belsito is co-founder of Product Collective and co-organizer of INDUSTRY: The Product Conference, an adjunct professor of design and innovation at Case Western Reserve University, and co-host of the Rocketship.FM podcast. Connect with him on LinkedIn

Listen to Belsito talk more about this event in the Nov. 22, 2019 PragmaticLive Podcast.

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