Have you ever experienced a leader articulate their product vision with such clarity that you felt you could almost reach out and touch this, yet to be developed product? You hung on their every word as your brain tried to fathom how this vision could be made a reality. You were exhilarated by the opportunity to deliver this product but at the same time terrified at the underlying complexity, which the visionary leader expertly hid behind the simplicity of the idea. In this post, which is part one of the Relationship Series, we explore the relationship between the Product Manager and a visionary leader.
I have had the privilege of working with several truly visionary leaders. The relationship with such a leader can be the most rewarding of a Product Manager’s career. We are able to transcend some of the more mundane Product Management activities and shape new ideas into a clear product vision. We craft an understanding of the business opportunities, and we find creative ways to articulate our solutions. This partnership, when working well, can be the catalyst for great product development.
So how should we, as Product Managers, build and then nurture this relationship? We can start by trying to understand what makes a visionary leader tick. As I am not a psychologist, which I have mentioned in a previous post, I am not going to attempt to explain the psychological forces which drive these leaders. Instead, I will share my own observations. Most of the visionary leaders, with whom I have had the pleasure to work, have had a few common qualities (this is of course generalised as each individual has a very different personality). First, they have a passion for solving a worthwhile problem. Next, they compromise to a point but very clearly demarcate the solution principles that are non-negotiable. Finally, they will support you with their last breath if they believe you share the same vision. These traits are important but can also lead to a breakdown in the relationship between the visionary leader and the Product Manager.
When it comes to the breakdown of this relationship there are three key emotions involved: frustration, anxiety, and fear. The iterative nature of software product development, especially in an agile environment, can trigger these emotions in a visionary leader. As Product Managers we are trained to build, test, and refine. We are comfortable that release one is not going to achieve the ultimate product vision but is a first step on a much longer journey. Sometimes, no matter how clear the product roadmap may be, the visionary leader’s frustration may start to grow. They become anxious that the vision isn’t clearly understood, and they become fearful that the problem, which is so close to their heart, will not be solved. It’s at times like these where we, the Product Manager, risk losing the trust of the visionary leader and the critical partnership is broken, often forever.
How can the collapse of this relationship be avoided? In my experience there are some basic steps that may or may not be successful. They include improvements in the way the product roadmap is communicated and on-going acts by the Product Manager that demonstrate their understanding of the product vision. However, the only way to truly secure this partnership is for us, to become the co-visionary leader. To live and breathe the problem and the solution with the same intensity as the original visionary leader. In this way we no longer just deliver the product we are part of the vision, and the vision is part of us.