The Problem With Being a Fix-It Product Manager
February 9, 2018

The Problem With Being a Fix-It Product Manager

by Ron Yang

It starts off with the best intentions. You are planning an upcoming release and notice that the support documentation needs to be updated. You could turn to a teammate and ask them to jump in. But instead you think, “I’ll just do it this once — it will be quicker this way.” Before you know it, you are spending lots of time in an area where your colleagues are experts. You have become the fix-it product manager.

It is a frustrating cycle: The more problems you preemptively fix, the more people expect you to fix every challenge the product faces.

You might be thinking, “But I am a product manager — solving problems is what I do!” This is true, solving problems is an important part of the job. But it is not your responsibility alone. Being a successful product manager means setting the team up for success. You cannot do this if you are constantly jumping in to fix every little thing.

The instinct to fix is a good one. But if you find that you frequently have your head down working through issues that could be solved by others, you will struggle to achieve anything meaningful.

The best product managers know when to solve an issue, when to bring others in, and when to leave it alone.

So instead of jumping on every problem that comes up, take a more strategic approach — one that will help the whole team move forward.

Here is how great product managers transcend a fix-it mentality:

Goal first Having clear goals is the key to understanding where to invest your time. When an issue arises, examine it next to your objectives and ask yourself, “How could this hold us back from achieving meaningful results?” You want to focus your efforts on where you will make the biggest impact — not on issues that are trivial or inconsequential to what you are trying to achieve.

Open conversations If the problem is worth working on but not obvious that you should jump to fix it, do not immediately take it yourself — open it up to the team. Grab 15 minutes at your next product team meeting to discuss the issue and come up with an action plan. The discussion will likely reveal someone on the team who is best equipped for the work.

Spot opportunities Maybe a teammate is not yet in a position to handle the issue alone. Rather than jump in alone, see this as your chance to help them grow a new skill. Encourage this teammate to shadow the person who is going to work on it. Or guide them as they do the work themselves, providing feedback along the way. The key here is to support — not do the work for them. Once your teammate is up to speed, they will be able to handle similar issues in the future.

Make connections To build anything great, you need to get cross-functional teams talking. So, you need to stop thinking of yourself as the go-between on the product team and start thinking of yourself as a connector. For example, if you know there is someone in engineering who can help solve a marketer’s problem, encourage them to talk and come up with a solution together. Teammates can learn from each other — without you doing all the heavy lifting.

Step back As a product manager, you are a trained problem-solver — but not every issue requires a reaction. Maybe you are stressed because a customer is angry or someone on the team is leaving the company. These are problems beyond your control. So when they happen, take a breath. Sometimes the best thing you can do is step back and let the issue resolve itself naturally.

It feels great to be the person who can solve everyone’s problem. But ask yourself, “Is my fix-it attitude really helping?”

The next time an issue arises, analyze it to determine when to give it to a teammate, when to allow the organization to self-correct, and when you really do need to resolve it yourself.

What are your strategies for problem-solving?

Ron Yang

Ron Yang

Ron builds lovable products. He was the vice president of product management and UX at Aha! — the world’s #1 product development software. Ron has more than 15 years of experience in entrepreneurship and leading product teams. Previously, Ron founded and sold his own company and has been on the founding team of multiple venture-backed companies.

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