Thinking-Based Product Roles

Max Bennett

Product people need to balance thinking and doing in order to do their jobs effectively (see The Art of Balancing Thinking & Doing). Yet despite this, most roles are defined only through what someone is accountable to doing without including what someone is accountable to thinking about. This presents a big problem on teams that are highly cross-functional, such as product management, design, and product marketing. These teams have lots of overlap and flexibility in the details of what one does. However, what one is accountable to thinking about is the far more defined, constant, and clear. Hence, it is better to define product roles first based thinking. Here are the definitions of thinker & doer across each role on the team at Bluecore:

Why are thinking-based role definitions better?

  • More clarity: As evidenced by the above grid, it is much easier to understand your role when first grounding yourself in what you are accountable to thinking about, as opposed to grounding yourself in the list of things you are accountable to doing.
  • More accountability: This framework makes it much easier for team members to know who is accountable to different challenges. Do we think we built the wrong thing? Call your friendly product manager. Is the story not resonating? Call your friendly product marketing manager. Is the experience off? Call your friendly Product Designer.
  • More autonomy: With more clarity on roles and accountability, it then becomes much easier for people to autonomously prioritize their own work. For example, a product manager can define for herself what she has to do to ensure that we are in fact “building the right thing”. A product marketing manager can define for himself what he has to do to ensure that we are in fact “telling the right story”.
  • Healthier debates & easier to “disagree & commit”: Since it is clear who has final say on decisions (product management has the call on what the right thing is, design the call on what the right experience is, etc.), it becomes easier for team members to have a healthy debate and subsequently disagree and commit to each other. It becomes natural for different team members to say things to each other like “I disagree with the decision, but as the [insert functional role here], it is your call — if you decide to move forward than I am 150% committed to it”. Disagreeing and committing leads to faster and more robust decision making, and it builds trust.

For the above reasons, defining product roles by “thinking” can be a helpful tool in driving effectiveness.

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Max Bennett

Written by

Co-Founder & SVP of Product @ Bluecore

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