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Amy Johnson | Chief Product Officer PropelJan 30, 2024 4:33:01 PM3 min read

Have your Product Managers been relegated to mere order-takers?

I had lunch last week with some product folk I've worked with previously, and one of my friends shared her frustration that Product Managers in her company are simply order-takers. On reflection, this is a pretty common anti-pattern, where the Product Managers are effectively corporate waitstaff — merely ferrying directives from executives or business stakeholders to the engineering teams, without autonomy or empowerment.

I have a few thoughts as to why this happens:

  • Misunderstanding of the Role: There's often a lack of clarity about what product management entails, leading to reduced expectations and a narrowed scope of work.
  • Capability of the Product Manager: Sometimes, the skillset of the product manager may not align with what is expected of the role, leading to a reliance on orders from above.
  • Voice of the Customer: Product Managers may not be perceived as representing the customer's voice within the organization, diminishing their influence on product decisions.
  • Internal Perspectives "We know best": A common assumption that internal voices always know best so you should just do what they say, especially in companies with a history of success.
  • Authoritarian Leadership: Executives who favour a top-down approach tend to centralize decision-making and limit the creative input of their teams.

This mindset leads to several negative outcomes, including:

  • Disempowered Teams: When creativity is stifled, teams can become demotivated and disengaged.
  • Wasted Potential: Highly skilled professionals are underutilised, spending their time on administrative tasks rather than strategic thinking. (Might also mean you are wasting $$$ on high PM salaries).
  • Lack of Customer Centricity: With an internal and often short term focus,  making decisions without understanding the customer need can lead to waste and rework.

So what do we see as essential components of a Product Manager role?

  1. Product Vision and Strategy

    • Vision: They craft a customer-centric vision that motivates and guides the product's direction.
    • Market Acumen: They maintain a keen understanding of market dynamics, competition, and opportunities for innovation.
    • Strategy and Roadmapping: They formulate and communicate a strategic path to realize their vision, detailing short-term and long-term goals through effective roadmaps.
  2. Fluency with Data & Insight

    • Product Discovery: They excel at identifying problems and collaborating to design solutions that meet customer needs and align with business objectives.
    • Data Utilisation: They leverage data to inform decisions and track progress towards desired outcomes.
    • User Experience: They have a basic knowledge of end-to-end product design, from user research to prototyping and testing.
    • Technological Awareness: They stay informed about emerging technologies to harness trends that benefit product development.
  3. Product Delivery

    • Agile Practices: They are comfortable with agile methodologies that emphasize customer feedback and iterative development.
    • User Stories and Requirements: They can decompose complex processes into user stories, ensuring clarity and focus in development.
  4. Go-to-Market

    • Value Proposition: They clearly communicate the unique benefits of their product.
    • Market Execution: They are capable of planning and executing product launches, including marketing, pricing, and sales.
    • Operational Readiness: They ensure that the infrastructure for support and training is in place before product launch.
  5. People Skills - The "Soft" Stuff

    • Leadership & Influence: The ability to motivate and inspire the team toward achieving the shared goal. Gaining buy-in and driving initiatives forward.
    • Communication: Crafting a story. Including verbal and written communication to foster collaboration and understanding.
    • Adaptability: Capability to adjust quickly to change or new information. Comfortable in navigating uncertainty.
    • Decision Making: Confidence in making informed, effective and timely decisions.

The benefits of having such capabilities are profound:

  1. Inspirational Leadership: Product managers with a clear vision inspire their teams and guide the product with strategic decisions that resonate with long-term objectives.

  2. Innovation and Creativity: An environment that encourages experimentation and risk-taking ensures that the product stays relevant and competitive.

  3. User-Centric Focus: Continuous engagement with user feedback and market trends guarantees that the product evolves to meet genuine user needs.

  4. Team Morale and Collaboration: When product managers are visionaries, they create a collaborative atmosphere where every team member's contribution is acknowledged and valued.

By investing in these capabilities, organisations can shift from a hierarchical, order-taking culture to one of innovation, empowerment, and strategic growth — essential ingredients for success.

Or maybe I should just quote John Cutler whom when asked "What is the Product Manager's job?" in a linked in post a second ago simply replied "A successul product". Fair enough!


Amy Johnson | Chief Product Officer Propel

A product leader, passionate about empowering teams and fostering inclusion. Multi industry experience, now leading the product team at Propel, where we partner with you to accelerate your product development and achieve product market fit faster.