Help! I Am a Product Manager and I Have No Control Over My Own Product
July 12, 2018

Help! I Am a Product Manager and I Have No Control Over My Own Product

by Brian de Haaff

You like to build things. This is why you became a product manager. And yet very little building gets done. The plans you make keep changing. Decisions get overturned. Resources and budgets reallocated. It can feel like you are simply taking orders — reduced from “product builder” to “glorified project manager.”

You need a way to even the product playing field. Because right now, no one is winning. Definitely not the customer.

Maybe executives keep “pivoting” the strategy or the sales team decrees that this feature needs to be built “right now” to close a make-the-quarter deal. Perhaps development believes that they already know what they need to build and exactly how to do it, so no need for product managers at all. Or maybe it all comes down to your fellow product managers — each one of you angling for engineering mindshare and resources.

I know many product managers feel this kind of squeeze — it is extra tight at large organizations. The details may differ, but the outcome is almost always the same. Product managers without control. Lots of unhappiness and resentment.

No matter the nuances of the struggle, it often boils down to one central problem: a lack of strategic direction and the discipline to stay true to it. And so, the wrestling begins. You are battling for resources and respect. You are battling to achieve something meaningful.

The best way for product managers to take control is to show what real value looks like.

And I literally mean show real value. This sounds really hard, but it does not need to be. Start by working with key colleagues to agree on a small set of goals. Then create an internal scoring system for prioritizing what features should be built. You can do this for one product — but if there are many products, you probably should do this across the portfolio in a consistent way.

This allows you to set the quantifiable strategic value that each feature brings and assign resources rationally. Some people do this using Excel, but a scorecard is built into our roadmapping software and can be easily customized to align with your business. (Read some of our examples.)

To get you started, we pre-populated the Aha! scorecard with the following metrics for assessing the strategic value of features:

  • Sales increase (+)

  • Retention of customers (+)

  • PR/Marketing (+)

  • Operational efficiencies (+)

  • Effort to develop (-)

Of course, your business is unique. So when it comes to identifying your own prioritization metrics, you need to do it with the larger team. In order for the scorecards to be effective at driving decisions, all stakeholders need to agree on which metrics are most important to the overall strategy. This can be an especially difficult conversation if there are not defined goals at the corporate level. But it is not a dealbreaker.

Below are three good ways to approach this conversation and to choose the metrics that should go on your scorecard:

Audit past work

Select a few recent releases and the features that were delivered — then ask the team why the work that got prioritized got prioritized. And then did it meet the objectives? Did it increase efficiency? Decrease cost? Maybe there was simply a great marketing opportunity. Examine the results as a group and determine if that is how you want to define value moving forward — or if you need to identify new metrics for prioritization.

Start with goals

What do you want to accomplish this year? Maybe your focus is adding new functionality or reducing churn. Laser in on five or six of the most important goals, and then write them down in order of importance. You and the team can now assign a different weighting for each, based on the agreed-upon level of importance.

Build personas

Sometimes everyone needs to get out of the “just get things done” mindset and back to the customer’s needs. Sit down with the team and talk through your customer personas. If you do not currently have personas in place, build them together — talk through customer challenges and what they want to achieve using your product. Use those insights to inform your scoring system.

No matter how you start the conversation, the end goal should be the same — using a clear prioritization rubric and making deliberate decisions that will lead to product and customer success moving forward.

Once you can quantify the value of the work you are doing, and how it is helping the customer and company, you will regain the attention that you and your product need.

Not just that, but you will also have a powerful tool for taking back control. Scoring features will help you get back to why you became a product manager in the first place — to build and lead.

How do you take control over the feature prioritization process?

Build better products with Aha! — sign up for a free 30-day trial.

Aha! is a trademark of Aha! Labs Inc. All other company and product names may be trademarks of the respective companies with which they are associated.

Brian de Haaff

Brian de Haaff

Brian seeks business and wilderness adventure. He is the co-founder and CEO of Aha! — the world’s #1 product development software — and the author of the bestseller Lovability and The Startup Adventure newsletter. Brian writes and speaks about product and company growth and the journey of pursuing a meaningful life.

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