Many companies who have moved their workforces fully to remote employment began to wonder how they can still achieve their goals on time. Product managers are no different, they have a roadmap with goals and milestones to hit, yet they don’t have that daily interaction with development, QA, support and other teams like they used to. So, their job is now becoming more of a uniter, a leader and motivator, in addition to product manager.
Five things that help product managers stay afloat in this new environment and be successful:
1. Clear Vision
Product managers more than ever before need to have clear vision of their product and clearly communicate that vision to their stakeholders. They need to simplify their vision and explain the why behind the what they are building and provide customer and market evidence to help boost confidence and rally the organization behind them.
2. Purposeful Communication
While the vision defines purpose for what they are building, with remote workforce, PMs need to be very clear in communicating purpose of milestones, features, and even meetings. They need to be laser sharp on communicating with purpose. Any meeting, agenda, or training should be communicated to the team with a stated purpose. Understanding the mission of meetings however is a microcosm of the overall message which the product manager should promote, and that is understanding the team’s and company’s mission. Clearly expressing to the team how their work helps to advance the company goals ensures that every team member delivers work that their particular role requires with the most value. Giving a clear path and direction with a stated agenda in mind allows the team, regardless of location, to work toward a unified endgame.
3. Effective Collaboration
A product manager’s job by its nature involves juggling many balls in the air, often communicating with a spectrum of teams, in an attempt to drive toward a common goal. Communicating with different teams at different times means that the product manager needs to constantly relay these communications to other teams. Working collaboratively however is the key to success.
Different roles in a company or even on the same team may have drastically different views on how to approach a particular situation. Bringing the teams together, fully, or through representatives, gives every team a voice in the goal, and allows for the development of better ideas, and promotes transparency. This way, everyone feels they have a say in the matter and their opinions are heard and at the very least, considered.
While not as ideal as face to face, doing this remotely is now easier than 10 years ago thanks to communication tools such as Slack, Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Google Teams, WebEx, and many others. The ability to use a joint team calendar can help identify everyone’s availability and video tools can bring everyone in on a conversation. The shared understanding of the team is at the very root of remotely managing a team.
Communication tools makes collaborative communication simpler, yet teams still need to be on the same page when it comes to what are we working on next, what are the top priorities, who is asking for what, and why are we building A vs. B. Product management teams can answer many of these questions and more by building a single source of truth for their product management and customer needs, and share this information and collaborate with their stakeholder by giving them access to a product management platform or product management software such as eProduct or others.
4. Encourage Participation
A product manager needs to know that the team is effectively working on their individual goals to meet deadlines and perform their part of the product promptly. But a product manager needs visibility to teams’ progress; virtual daily stand-ups definitely help. Backlog review sessions, sprint planning and sprint review sessions become more important. Finding strategic ways for team members to participate in discussions and being forward enough to share any of their concerns could help alleviate potential problems before they arise. Pitching an issue to a team by one member and participation by others could put out many fires before they ignite. Someone may even realize a logical flaw that can help avert long term problems when communicating and talking it through with others. At the same time, collaborative meetings prove that team members are present and actively engaged in the working process.
Product managers recognize that external factors or new events could affect progress or work processes, therefore they must be prepared to encounter unplanned unknowns that could delay or subvert the process. Working together as a team and engaging the other teams to take initiative, collaborate and own the goals is what product managers should polish now.
5. Sharing Knowledge & Transparency
One of the most important things in product management is keeping the team motivated with an eye on the goal. But the lack of transparency negates the process more often than not, and it breeds demotivation, demoralization, and frustration among the team members. This in turn impedes their productivity. If the team does not have a purpose and cannot trust that they are being kept in the loop on important aspects of the process, they may feel blindsided by things that they could have helped avoid.
Knowledge, as they say, is power, or in the case of a managed team, it is empowerment. The more knowledge that is shared with the team, the more they can operate on the same page striving toward the same goal. Product managers need to share their roadmap, vision and goals with other teams in a simple clear fashion and keep everyone updated on progress or if changes arise. Product managers need more and more to engage with other teams at a deeper level, not only informing them with what they will build, but more why we are building it, who asked for it, and why now. This is what we call at a high-level evidence. In short evidence-based product management as a discipline is more than a nice to have practice, it becomes a must with this new remote work environment and with this new normal with COVID-19.
6. Leading by Example
A product manager leading a remote team must show that they are acting based on the same expectations that they have for their team. If the manager expects their employees to be attentive and present, they must do the same. Busy days will have to be dealt with to make time for conversations with team members (on both business and private matters if necessary). Taking inventory of the team’s needs and restructuring efforts when a situation calls for it, encourages trust from the team. Most importantly, when a team sees a leader intentioned on the same goal as the rest of the team, it motivates people to work harder and builds trust amongst the team overall.
Remotely or in person, a product manager must be able to motivate, persuade, and inspire their team. They must also be open with their team about everyone’s work needing to measure up against the standard of the goals and mission of the business. This means researching and bringing forth ideas of tools that can help people be more productive and more effectively leveraging their talents.
7. Encouraging Innovation
Making the work lives of a team easier and interesting is another important aspect of a remote product manager. Whether that innovation is in the tools the team utilizes, the methods they use, or the approaches they take, a product manager must always be thinking of ways of optimizing the team’s effectiveness.
Quick adaptability to changing circumstances is pivotal in order to adapt. COVID-19 sure made that crystal clear. Being able to shift gears, automate where possible, and innovate parts of the process is something that the product managers should not only pursue on their own but should actively encourage and push their team members to do as well. This makes everyone’s work worthwhile.