TribalScale
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TribalScale

Why Product Managers Don’t Work Together

By Zeinab Bagheri

Shocking title, right? I bet it caught your attention and now you’re sitting there wondering why Product Managers (PMs) don’t work together.

Certainly, there is some truth to the statement, but it’s not all doom and gloom for PM-collaboration. In this blog, I’ll walk you through some of the reasons why PMs struggle to work together, but then I’ll offer some solutions and tools that have helped me and my team work together, and work together well.

The Barriers

Product Managers are often siloed and fully dedicated to their own work, product or project. They tend to work autonomously, or strictly with their product team, which may be comprised of designers, engineers, copywriters, etc., but importantly not other PMs. They make decisions based on the specific product’s data, their own opinions and frameworks, and at their own pace. As a result, this can make it difficult to ensure communication, let alone an understanding, of what another PM is working on — even in the same company! Not to mention that PMs tend to have very little bandwidth and checking in on the work of another isn’t necessarily a priority.

PMs can also be strong-willed, which may make collaboration difficult. However, being resolute is a trait that is (near-) required for a PM role as their project team will look up to them for direction, feedback, and answers. PMs can therefore be regarded as a leader and are expected to take ownership and guide the team. However, this means that they’ve likely established a product process and will want to continue working and fine-tuning their specific process as they elaborate and build upon the product. As a result, if there are two such people on a product team, chances are, they’ll butt heads. It’s not very likely that they’ll follow the exact same process, way of prioritizing, or perspective.

In a similar vein, a key responsibility for a PM is to make decisions regarding product requirements. When deciding and weighing a series of factors and considering many unknowns — business dependencies, technical debt, timeline, budget, team interests, etc. — each PM will have a personal, tried and true method for making those decisions; some will consider the data, some will consult the team, and some will solely focus on the client’s wants. However, this decision-tree will often be rooted in the given individual’s experiences, background, and area of expertise, which may conflict with those of another PM. Having a fellow PM push for unfamiliar territory in terms of prioritizing requirements may not go over so well.

Considering a PM’s limited bandwidth, tendency to work independently, strong-willed attributes, and established processes, it can be challenging for PMs to work together and overcome those barriers. However, it’s not impossible. Here are 3 tools and approaches that the PMs at TribalScale use to ensure effective and productive collaboration.

Tools & Approaches

The structure of the organization can be a big difference. For example, TribalScale is structured in terms of disciplines: a team of product managers, engineers, quality assurance engineers, designers, and so on so forth. Then, each product team is comprised of individuals from each discipline. However, some companies are solely organized by product teams, where the team has a PM, engineers, a designer, etc. When the organization is set-up by discipline, the process tends to run across all projects and anyone can jump in at any time.

Beyond the structure of the organization, PMs will work together if there is a culture of collaboration embedded in the team. This will ultimately stem from the management of people and teams. Leadership should instill a mentality where there is shared responsibility for any given product. Sure, each PM may be allocated to a specific project, but its success is a collective responsibility. This sort of culture will likely emerge if communication and transparency are embedded in the PM team; people won’t be afraid to ask for help, everyone will know what’s being worked on, all will receive status updates, and so on. This way, anyone can come in and help out if necessary, but together, all help build and grow the product.

Finally: feedback. Feedback is probably the most important element in ensuring productive collaboration among product managers. It must be built into the organization, the team, and the culture. Open and transparent Slack channels, regular demos, status update emails, regular product team meetings, etc. will enable an environment where each PM knows what the others are working on, but also everyone in the organization will generally know what’s going on and who is doing what. However, feedback will also force PMs to confront their own assumptions and biases. Remember how I mentioned that PMs can be pretty strong-willed and committed to their modes of prioritization and decision-making? Well, if they’re receptive to feedback, they’ll be more likely to have those frameworks challenged and therefore improved upon. With regular discussion, feedback, and constructive criticism, all benefit.

In short, to encourage PM-collaboration — and therefore, better products — establish a structure and an environment where PMs regularly meet and discuss their work, don’t isolate them to their specific product team. Encourage a culture of open communication, hold regular demos, PM-meetings, etc. to ensure all know what’s being worked on and anyone can lend a helping hand. Finally, and most importantly, embed feedback throughout to combat any biases and assumptions that limit the potential for collaboration.

Zeinab is a Product Manager at TribalScale. She is committed to helping clients explore their digital potential by spearheading projects from start to release, mentoring junior Product Managers, and fostering a culture of collaboration within her teams. She has helped leading brands in media and entertainment release innovative applications across multiple OTT platforms, and is committed to improving upon all products by leveraging and exploring qualitative data from user feedback, and more. Before TribalScale, she led the successful release of products for mobile, web, and tablet for enterprises in a range of industries.

TribalScale is a global innovation firm that helps enterprises adapt and thrive in the digital era. We transform teams and processes, build best-in-class digital products, and create disruptive startups. Learn more about us on our website. Connect with us on Twitter, LinkedIn & Facebook!

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Not a massive development shop, VC firm, or design agency. But a unique group of skilled individuals, all feeding on one another’s talent. Empowering businesses to grow their success.

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TribalScale Inc.

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A digital innovation firm with a mission to right the future.

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