Momentum: How Product Managers Can Operate With No Regrets
Ryan Frederick | January 11th, 2023
Show me a product manager whose latest release is a hit with users and driving the outcomes desired by the company. I will show you a product manager who is likelier to operate confidently and will continue to have at least near-term success. On the other hand, show me a product manager whose latest release is struggling with users and driving the outcomes desired by the company. I will show you that a product manager needs to be more confident. Product success produces product management success which produces more product success.
Momentum is a tricky dynamic to capture and hold on to. Momentum can be fleeting, and when it feels like things are starting to go your way, the wind shifts, and now things seem to be working against you. I’ve heard some sports announcers bemoan the existence of momentum and others who believe in it strongly. Watch a sporting event, however, and it is hard to deny some moments that are clear swings of energy and confidence from one team to the other. What often defines the success of a game and a sports team is how well they take advantage of these momentum-changing moments. Great teams have a knack for overcoming negative moments to recapture the momentum from their opponent. Momentum might be hard to explain and identify, but many abstract things have intrinsic power that is hard to explain.
Whether you believe in momentum or not, it is undeniable that a positive period of performance and accomplishments is easier to keep going than starting from scratch. This isn’t the dictionary definition of momentum. Still, it is the real one based on humans being confident, energized, and focused. Product managers and product teams perform better during a run of success. They are the same people who are no more skilled than they were before, but success encourages success. Something going anyone’s way changes their outlook and their belief in themselves.
Product managers, in particular, benefit from success because the rest of the product team tends to take on the product manager’s perspective, confidence, and positivity. Product managers who operate with a high confidence level are also more decisive. Decisiveness is a crucial trait for product managers, and nothing elicits being more decisive than recent success. Product managers who have yet to experience success recently and are struggling with confidence will tend to be less decisive. Team members pick up on a product manager’s confidence and decisiveness. Team members not only pick up on it, but they also mimic it. Product managers can directly see or sense when their team is performing better because of a higher level of confidence and positivity from recent success. Momentum for product managers makes their job easier, brings out the best in their teammates, and creates better products.
Success begets success in many endeavors, but it is particularly important for the effectiveness of product managers. Product managers who don’t experience consistent success will begin to question their judgment, causing them to seek more input before making a decision. Product managers who begin over-analyzing will justify it based on the recent lack of success. They will say things like, “We rushed the last release,” “We didn’t have enough information,” “We misinterpreted the data,” and so on. These might all be accurate statements, but you rarely hear these things from a product manager operating with positive momentum. Suppose a product manager needs to gain more confidence and become indecisive. In that case, it is more likely that the string of failures will continue, and there won’t be a shift in momentum.
Product managers have an immense responsibility to their teams to be initiators of momentum. Product managers can initiate momentum by:
- Celebrating and acknowledging small wins — Small wins stacked on top of each other feel weightier than the wins might be. When a product team has even a series of small wins, momentum can start to build, which helps the team perform more efficiently and effectively. This includes celebrating individual team member contribution and impact.
- Don’t hide from the losses, even small ones — Product managers who cover up or diminish losses, even small ones lose credibility with their team because the team will perceive the false positivity even more negatively than the losses. Even mall losses should be acknowledged as the learning opportunities they are.
- Set the stage properly — The best product managers set the stage for winning and losing teams. For wins, product managers optimistically talk about what’s next. When x happens, we’ll be ready to progress with y. The same is true for losses. Product managers who can best convert small losses into positive momentum do so by identifying the learnings and insights that will be gathered beforehand. This way, small losses are the stepping stones to more knowledge and therefore wins. The best product managers leverage small wins and losses for momentum because they identify value in each.
- Stay in the present — Too many product managers and then product teams operate in the past or future over the present. They become captive to what happened in the last release or mesmerized by the future of the roadmap. Product managers who can stay and keep their teams focused on the present are more likely to engender confidence, clarity, and focus that creates positive momentum. Anyone who has worked in product long enough knows the drudgery of bugs, points, cards, standups, backlogs, roadmaps, etc. Product managers who can help their teams stay excited about the work at hand are more likely to initiate momentum than those who allow their teams to languish in the past or be too fantastical about the future.
- No regrets — A colleague recently said something powerful. I asked how he remains calm and decisive following obstacles and things not going as planned. He responded, “I operate with no regrets.” Successful product managers make the best decisions they can base on the information they have. The results aren’t always what a product manager expects or wants. Still, they can’t live in the past and let past decisions they wouldn’t change affect their current perspective. Product managers must operate without regrets; otherwise, they let the past control the present and subsequent results.
- Don’t harbor resentment — Product management is a dependent profession. Product managers need others to be successful in their role and to create great products. It is easy for product managers to succumb to resenting the bad behavior, communication, and work product of team members. Team members will make mistakes that affect the quality, timeliness, and efficacy of every aspect of a product. Product managers should hold team members accountable for their work and participation. Still, when a product manager holds on to resentment of what a team member has done wrong, it drags down the product manager, team, and product, preventing positive momentum from developing.
- Say no — Product managers should defend what is right, not what is next. Proceeding with a lack of awareness of the inputs and circumstances that indicate otherwise is a sure way to kill momentum. Product teams know whether they are starting to work into a headwind, telling them to go in a different direction. Product managers who don’t heed the warnings and force things will lose momentum and lose their team members’ confidence. Product managers need to know when to say no to something that will take away their positive momentum.
Momentum is fleeting, and it ebbs and flows. Sometimes momentum shifts are easy to identify, and other times the shifts are more amorphous. Even when the catalyst of a momentum shift can be identified, it doesn’t mean it can be captured and repeated. Momentum is elusive in any endeavor, but it can be facilitated by attention to factors that affect it. Product managers who create an environment for themselves and their team members that elicits momentum will set the stage to experience more of it. Product managers don’t control the results, but they can help create an environment of momentum that increases the likelihood of the results they seek. Working in a positive, momentum environment also makes a better experience for everyone around a product.