Monday, May 12, 2014

Be the Product Cheerleader and Bring a Playbook

by Wes Royer

Be the Cheerleader…

Being the product manager responsible for bringing a new product or feature from concept to launch can be a frustrating journey. Even with executive backing to make your product a priority in the company’s portfolio, there will be roadblocks (internal and external competition), obstacles (defects, misses), and constraints (funding, speed to market, resourcing).

But no matter how frustrating a meeting, day, or week gets, a good product manager remains the product’s cheerleader in front of the project team and stakeholders. There needs to be a balance with reality, but the product manager needs to constantly be a positive light in face of issues and risks. The product manager needs to consistently and gracefully reiterate to the team why the product is important to the customer and why the product is integral to the company’s strategy. Note that the word “cheerleader” contains the word “leader.”

I have seen project teams strive and smile through challenges when their product owner maintains this “glass half full” attitude. When a product owner expresses a “glass half empty” attitude in front of the project team and stakeholders, I have seen lack of collaboration and efficiently quickly take over the project team. This only leads to doubt, poor delivery, and even defiance, which in the end will result in a blame game.

…and Bring a Playbook

Let’s assume that the product manager is a captain cheerleader. Is there a playbook, a roadmap? If they don’t have a clear roadmap and strategy for their product, the project team will notice and start asking questions about direction and purpose. Being a product cheerleader without a roadmap is like running onto the field without a playbook.

For example, let’s say your project team is a strong group of resources that has worked well together for the past year. Each team member respects one another, and consistently delivers on-time with quality, but keeps the environment fun. If this team starts working on a product that lacks clear goals and lacks an actionable roadmap strategy to meet those goals, the team may push through a couple sprints or releases just fine. But it will not take long before you start hearing questions in and out of meetings such as, “What are we working on next?” and “How do I know what we’re building now is scaling the product for what we need to build for the next release or client?”

Even worse, resources start stating, “Guess this product is not a priority,” or half joking say, “When are we getting our pink slips?” I have witnessed this, and it is uncomfortable and alarming. At this point, cheerleading will be ignored for blind enthusiasm.

In today’s world of increased real-time collaboration and Agile methodologies, team members wear and share multiple hats of responsibility and any coworker may ask strategic questions.  Having a documented roadmap and being able to clearly explain the strategy behind it helps keep the team on track with direction and purpose, which should lead to a happy and productive team for your product.

Roadmap template, copyright Wes Royer & Product Fencing

And for you Agilists, see "Even Agile Teams Need a Product Roadmap."

[the end.]


  1. You make terrific points here, observing dysfunctional product leadership certainly helps crystallize the behaviors to adopt and those to avoid. Great post.

  2. This is a nice article. I've definitely seen the cheerleader without a playbook, and it got dicey. When people can tell you don't have a real plan, it can also get irritating just because they know the direction will change and you'll likely waste their time as soon as the next something shiny comes along. Good advice! I might try calling them people instead of resources, but I still get where you're coming from. :)