Product Management Standards
Ryan Frederick | April 8th, 2022
In theory, product managers shouldn’t have to be responsible for enforcing work product standards for colleagues, but it is a reality for many product managers.
A product manager’s colleagues in design, engineering, production, and more should be performing to standards established by their craft and domain leadership. Engineers should be coding to and working to expectations set by their engineering leadership. When this works well and an organization has a culture of accountability reinforced with good departmental leadership, product managers don’t have to get too involved in holding their colleagues to work standards. But when the culture and leadership are lacking, a product manager will be forced to deal with the negative impacts and ramifications.
In an ideal scenario, leadership is holding their team members accountable for work, but a product team’s colleagues are. Every product team member should expect to be held to a standard of work just as they should hold their teammates to the same standard. In high-performing product companies, product teams can operate independently with little to no outside work standards oversight. This product team’s self-leadership and self-accountability are rarer than they should be.
When work standards are lacking, the associated accountability falls on product managers to enforce them. This can make new product managers uncomfortable, as it is a challenge even for experienced product managers. When a product team member isn’t meeting work standards, a product manager should be able to go to their leadership to inform them of the issues, what has been done to resolve them, and the impact being felt by the rest of the team and the product. Product management leadership should be able to then address with design, engineering, or other department leadership for remediation. The product manager gets to go back to product managing with confidence that leadership will resolve the matter. This is the way it should work, but in many organizations, there still isn’t leadership for product on par with other areas forcing product managers to take the matter to a leader they don’t report to but who also leads the department with the under-performing team member. When there is a lack of leadership discipline, lazy and incompetent leadership can create a troubling, long-term performance and political problem for a product manager. It is easy to say that product managers should avoid these organizations but sadly, it might be unavoidable for some product managers to end up in this environment.
A product reflects everyone who contributes to the product, and a product is an expression of the designers, engineers, and everyone who has created it. Still, a product manager carries much more of the weight of responsibility for a product being successful or not since the product manager is the hub for everything and everyone around the product. The weightier responsibility for the product manager means they also have more responsibility to ensure the work standards of everyone else working on the product are acceptable. This is often the messiest and most unenjoyable aspect of being a product manager.
A product manager who doesn’t have product or domain leadership support to enforce work standards has to enforce the standards and team members’ work contribution to ensure a product team culture that is positive, constructive, and respectful. In the wake of a product manager not enforcing standards, a product team’s culture and quality of work will erode.