There are some great thoughts about product management in this post. I shared this broadly.
Steven Sinofsky

On Ownership

Thanks for your response, Steven. Very thoughtful, and I’m excited to get the conversation going!

I agree with all of your comments. I’ve talked with my team members quite a bit about “listening and synthesizing” vs “talking and commanding.” For the purpose of this post, I made the hard choice of leaving this out, because I wanted to focus on the outcomes rather than the methods. The expectations side is where I feel the biggest gap in the existing product management literature is. (I was also very focused on keeping it short, and you could fill a library with best practices.)

What I mean by ownership

When I say “ownership” here, I don’t mean “it’s yours, do what you want with it.” I don’t mean “you’re the CEO of the product” — a common analogy–and you have executive authority to do as you please. I certainly don’t mean control. PM is a role with accountability but not authority. (Anyway, even folks who do have full executive authority will see better outcomes if they follow the guidance you offered.)

When I say “ownership” here, I mean you are fully invested in the product and the outcome. I mean you feel accountable not only for your own job responsibilities, but for everyone else’s as well.

When I say “ownership” here, I mean being a janitor and making sure whatever needs to get done gets done:

…at the end of the day you’ll also have to do a lot of work that no one else wants to do. Like figuring out where to get some big poster printed because PMs don’t have assistants to do this kind of leg work. Like finding a meeting slot that works for 14 different people on the Friday before a long weekend. Like copy editing that blog post for the umpteenth time. Like dealing with Legal (friendly cheap shot!). Like making that presentation flow a little bit better before taking it to some executive. Like triaging the three hundred low priority bugs that remain on the release hotlist. Like following up with everyone on objectives for the quarter. Like making sure the metrics dashboard stays up to date. Like fielding a press interview when no one from the PR team is around.

When I say “ownership” here, I mean it the way we define ownership in my team’s culture principles:

  • You’re an owner, not a consultant
  • You identify the gaps and fill them
  • You don’t pass the buck

These principles apply to everyone in any functional area: PMs, engineers, designers, business analysts, marketers, etc.

I do think ownership is particularly important to stress with PMs, because they are the one group with (a) no particular expertise in any functional area, so their entire value is in being the glue and bringing the team together to deliver the product, and (b) accountability for all the parts working together. PMs can’t say “well, the product worked great, but marketing didn’t tell the story well” or “well, the marketing campaign was amazing, but the product couldn’t scale to handle the load.” PMs never get to say “that’s not my responsibility.”

But at the end of the day, the ownership I’m talking about is absolutely shared. Without exception the best performing teams I’ve been a part of, and the best products I’ve shipped, came in instances of a strong, mutual feeling of shared ownership among the team.

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