February 23, 2024

Greater than 20 years in the past, tech entrepreneur and enterprise capitalist Ben Horowitz wrote {that a} good product supervisor is the CEO of the product. Many product managers disagree with this analogy, however it has some fact.

Senior product managers usually kind robust relationships with the C-suite as they navigate transitional states, undefined targets, and competing stakeholders. A product supervisor’s knack for readability is pivotal in occasions of change when CEOs are more vulnerable. In these moments, strain from boards and pushback from staff can thwart strategic transformation, risking income and careers. By contracting a generalist product supervisor to handle relationships with stakeholders, CEOs can achieve operational insights and buy-in for merchandise and initiatives in any respect ranges of a corporation.

Reasons board members removed CEOs; 31% cited mismanaging change.
In a seminal 2015 survey of 1,087 board members, 31% reported ousting a CEO resulting from poor change administration. Mismanaging change stays a serious vulnerability for CEOs.

Why Product Managers Make Nice Deputies

Everybody likes a product supervisor. Or, not less than, nobody is threatened by them. That’s as a result of product managers don’t have any authority outdoors of the product workforce. Their intention is to make sure the product roadmap solves compelling issues and addresses consumer priorities. To try this, they need to research the ins and outs of every enterprise unit, constructing rapport alongside the way in which.

Consequently, stakeholders really feel secure answering questions that would expose vulnerabilities or trigger misunderstandings. For example, one in every of my purchasers, a for-profit college group, was acquired in a leveraged buyout, and the brand new board ordered staff to digitize decades-old processes. However the board’s steerage was imprecise and didn’t make sense in each situation, main some stakeholders to disregard directives or quietly improvise their very own workflows. Had this been found, management would have penalized these stakeholders for going off-script. However their conduct was a practical response to systemic issues that they had no authority to eradicate. I documented these top-down issues, not the stakeholder workarounds, as critical ache factors we wanted to resolve.

A product supervisor makes use of cultural data to map the corporate’s de facto processes, then shares problem-solving suggestions with the C-suite. Right here’s how they go about it.

How Product Managers Method Key Stakeholders

An skilled product supervisor will construct rapport with stakeholders to determine issues in the beginning of a mission, negotiate options to these issues, and be sure that the options are viable. This course of requires a sequence of steps that leverage the product supervisor’s mushy abilities and a broad array of arduous abilities.


In the beginning of a mission, the product supervisor will maintain one-on-one conferences to permit stakeholders to talk freely about their ache factors with out the chance of retaliation. If there isn’t time to satisfy with each stakeholder, the product supervisor will goal a subset with essentially the most affect. These stakeholders are sometimes long-tenured managers or contributors who perceive the group’s structural points and function mentors to their colleagues.

Subsequent, the product supervisor will divide groups into small dialogue teams to find out how they perform. Retaining these conferences small ensures that people really feel snug airing grievances, strategies, or anxieties. By the top of the listening section, the product supervisor could have captured essential particulars about every stakeholder’s workflow and constraints.


The product supervisor will then use a instrument like Miro or diagrams.net to map relational workflows, knowledge constructions, and organizational dependencies to launch additional dialogue with stakeholders. This map introduces management to on-the-ground realities and reveals staff that different colleagues share their roadblocks and targets. The map additionally facilitates the roadmapping course of in a while, serving to to determine identified and unknown dangers to the group, from counterproductive workflows to looming disruptions that would have an effect on wholesome enterprise models.

At this level, some contract product managers will ship a tidy abstract and a few handsome slides earlier than signing off for good. This isn’t who you need to rent. An excellent generalist product supervisor will stick round to collaborate on stakeholder-led options that work and hand off day-to-day troubleshooting to an in-house product supervisor as soon as the mission is operating easily.


After drawing the map, the product supervisor will begin problem-solving, beginning with every stakeholder’s most simple ache factors. This train ought to yield speedy advantages for the group at massive. Nevertheless, keep in mind that the product supervisor mustn’t get too embedded inside a selected enterprise perform, or they threat changing into a part of the dysfunction they’re attempting to unravel.

As an alternative, the product supervisor ought to set up bigger, cross-functional tasks and implement information-sharing processes to preempt siloing and friction. The product supervisor might choose representatives from every related enterprise unit (usually proficient however underutilized workforce members) to collaborate on the mission.

Suppose gross sales and advertising want higher alignment. On this case, the product supervisor would possibly maintain a weekly working group with one marketer and one gross sales consultant to arrange their groups’ targets and processes and consider new buyer relationship administration (CRM) techniques. These representatives would then report their findings to their respective groups.


Mediating amongst stakeholders is essentially the most delicate however rewarding stage for product managers. Strategies might differ, however my strategy to mediation is straightforward:

  1. Manage a gathering and embrace all stakeholders who will use or be affected by the product. The invite checklist ought to embrace the capabilities that different stakeholders are likely to overlook when planning main adjustments. These capabilities differ between organizations however usually embrace customer support, human sources, or finance. Extending invites to as many stakeholders as attainable ensures that nobody derails the product out of self-interest, or fails to undertake the answer in favor of again channels.

  2. Based mostly on the assembly notes, draw a tough map of the capabilities’ overlapping and competing pursuits and priorities to search out factors of commonality and battle.

  3. Foyer every workforce by figuring out the way it will profit from an initiative. If a workforce sees no upside to tasks that inconvenience it, it would decide out or resist. Say the CRM working group decides the engineers should replace the present platform to include new lead era instruments for the gross sales workforce. The ensuing disruption may final for months and closely influence advertising’s efficiency. To get advertising’s buy-in, the product supervisor should clarify the long-term benefits to the advertising workforce, akin to improved automation options.

  4. Reconvene the stakeholders and supply one or two inventive alternate options to the primary proposal in case it fails to achieve consensus. If stakeholders can’t agree on an answer, the product supervisor ought to choose one and clarify why it’s the best choice.

  5. Repeat conferences with particular person stakeholders to solicit suggestions and clarify the plan’s influence on them and their groups. The objective is to have blunt discussions that the product supervisor can use to craft a compromise.

  6. Define an motion plan and guarantee stakeholders perceive that their ideas and time are very important and can generate worth for the group.

On the finish of this course of, stakeholders will view the product supervisor as a pleasant mediator and begin involving them in common data exchanges. Product managers capable of work throughout capabilities and with many stakeholders will help eradicate inefficiencies and silos all through the corporate.

A chart lists a product manager’s top five skills.
Product managers are expert multitaskers. One generalist product supervisor can scale back many operational silos.

How CEOs Get Misplaced within the Company Fog

The “fog of warfare” is a time period derived from the treatise On Conflict by Prussian navy strategist Carl von Clausewitz. It refers back to the necessity of creating operational choices with incomplete data. This fog additionally develops in altering organizations, akin to early-stage startups or extra established corporations within the throes of a scale-up or digital transformation. Activist boards demand quick results, whereas anxious staff resist change, combat over sources, or withhold data from management and each other. In the meantime, new useful overlaps and unexpected dependencies add complexity, deepening the chaos.

Within the case of the college group consumer I discussed earlier, educators, directors, and employees have been gradual to implement new processes as a result of the processes have been complicated or ill-suited for a selected context. When the board’s new imaginative and prescient didn’t manifest rapidly, it fired the CEO. By the point I arrived, the board had changed all the C-suite twice in a single yr, to little impact.

Executives are sometimes too busy managing direct studies and board expectations to observe operational trivia. When efficiency lags, they could exert broad strain, worsening fissures and dysfunction throughout the firm. An skilled product supervisor can break this vicious cycle by exploring all ranges of the group, gathering data, and organizing initiatives.

Product Managers Are Allies, Not Rivals

After the CEO, the senior product supervisor has essentially the most vital transverse position inside an organization, setting up webs of relationships and influencing tradition and strategic path. This affect can appear threatening to CEOs, significantly if the product supervisor strays out of their lane. For instance, an overenthusiastic product supervisor would possibly counsel altering the corporate’s technique or suggest initiatives outdoors the scope of their task. The stress of keeping off a rogue product supervisor can lead CEOs to micromanage, slowing decision-making and decreasing autonomy all through the group.

CEOs and different C-suiters ought to keep in mind that it’s unlikely a wayward product supervisor has ulterior motives. Whereas the job does have some mushy ability overlap with the CEO and even the COO, it lacks lots of the calls for of these roles. Product managers don’t cope with traders or the press like a CEO, or payroll and hiring like a COO, and that’s a part of the position’s enchantment. However, in the end, belief will rely upon the distinctive relationship between the CEO and product supervisor, significantly in smaller corporations. Expertise and expertise are necessary when evaluating a product supervisor, however belief will make the distinction between a counterproductive energy wrestle and a transformative collaboration.