Selectively Saying “No” to the Tactical

03.10.2017 |

Episode #3 of the course Becoming a more strategic product manager by Todd Birzer


Hi, and welcome to Lesson 3.

In our last two lessons, we looked at the work of product management and discussed why we—as product managers—get pulled into very tactical roles at the expense of the strategic.

Being strategic takes time, and with a full workload, we need to get something tactical off your plate to make room. We need to find areas of your job that you should gently say “no” to. That’s the focus of this lesson.

Let’s start by thinking about your past month as a product manager. It’s helpful to list the various tactical work you’ve done and then separate the items into two buckets: 1) tactical work aligned with your core work as a product manager and 2) tactical work that someone else should probably do.

Product managers often spend large amounts of time working with development teams to refine and hone new products prior to their launch and adjusting them based on customer and market feedback after launch. This work can be highly tactical, but it is also critical and very much in sync with your core product management role. This type of work goes into the first bucket.

For the second bucket, look for areas of work that don’t require your expertise as a product manager. I’ll give three examples.

Program and project management: Product managers often get pulled into program and project management roles. We track the development and delivery of complex products, coordinating between different engineering groups, client services, tech support, etc. This can be very time-consuming work, with very little product management special sauce.

Recommendation: Consult with your extended team and pass this work to someone else.

Product support: This is another area of tactical danger for product managers. We know our products inside and out; we’ve used them, dissected them, prodded, and pulled. With this knowledge, we can let ourselves drift into technical support roles. A customer calls a technical support agent with a product issue. Your technical support groups haven’t done their homework and don’t fully understand the product yet. They take a shortcut and call you.

Recommendation: Get your support channels trained, prepared, and self-sufficient. When they have very difficult technical issues, they should escalate these directly to the engineering team, without product managers being in the middle.

Sales support: As a product manager, you are an expert in your product area, and you might be very good in sales situations with potential new customers. Your sales team may ask help from you, especially with new products.

Recommendation: Train your sales teams and channel partners on how to effectively position and sell your product. Join them on some of their calls so you have firsthand experience and feedback. But say “no” to more extensive help, like doing a roadshow where you present a new product to 30 different prospects. Instead, train sales to make their own presentations.

As product managers, saying “no” is difficult. We often don’t have the organizational authority to make unilateral decisions. My advice is to use your political savvy, work with your teams to find homes for non-core tactical jobs, and gradually step back—freeing up time for the more strategic.

Next up: all the areas you should say “yes” to.

Talk to you tomorrow.

Todd Birzer


Recommended book

Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap and Others Don’t by Jim Collins


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