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How to Sell a Product Vision to Narrow-Minded Leadership

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If you’re a “PM” (project manager, product manager, program manager, product owner, we know, it can get a little confusing) you’re in the right place.

Regardless of your title, this article is for those that find themselves drowning in the world of product development. One where your critical skillset is often misunderstood or under appreciated. You know that when it comes to creating a product vision to build a product that meets business goals and achieves product/market fit, you’ll experience pushback from senior management.

The Problem

We’ve all had that PM friend that approaches us with this challenge; stakeholders aren’t listening, they aren’t engaged, and they won’t be convinced to adopt and commit to a vision. They won’t identify and agree on the product’s challenges and implement modifications to produce a better user experience. 

When a PM is complaining about the shortsightedness of their boss or the stakeholders, and the lack of vision of the “higher ups”. There are two possible problems:

  • There is a real, interpersonal issue between the PM and their superiors.
  • The PM has yet to focus solely on the users.

The Solution

  1. It’s Not You It’s Me Every single product or service that is successful, is built with the user in mind.  All product features are intelligently designed to meet a users needs.  With that in mind, a product manager’s primary responsibility is not to manifest their vision, it is to be a mouthpiece for the users.

    PM’s should remove the use of the word “I” from any discussion about the product. Replace it with pronouns or language related to the users of the platform.  As a PM, when you remove yourself from the equation, you make it entirely about who is using this product and the struggles the users of the product are having.  In doing so, senior management is forced to argue with many more people. (i.e. not just the PM).  Instead of a 1:1 conversation, where your superior can argue “OK, I hear what you’re saying about these changes you want to make to the application, but I don’t want to do that right now because __________”, a PM can easily push back, advocating that we need to make these changes because there is:
    • A qualitative assertion about the struggle the users are having
    • A quantitative assertion (i.e. cart abandonment rate is way higher than the industry average)

Accurately defining your product strategy is vital: if the marketplace doesn’t want or need your product, it’s useless.

  1. Building Relationships Selling a Product Vision to narrow minded leadership is about leveraging the relationship a PM has with users. The relationship will look a little different across products. For a website, PM’s connect with users using AB testing, heat mapping, Google Analytics and other tools that crack the actual behavior of a website or web application’s users. Anecdotally, the PM of the website should also actually know someone that has visited the site personally. They should be having conversations about their experience with the site on a regular basis. Outside of the digital product space, these challenges exist as well, though they are addressed in a much more anecdotal way.

    For example, a product manager for the iPhone should:
    • Be using the product themselves.
    • Know, via focus groups or formal user testing, a list of users that are engaged with providing feedback for the product team on a regular basis. 
  2. Creating a Product Vision that Sticks Building out a high level digital product strategy along with a written vision and mission statement is critical. Getting it reviewed and signed off by stakeholders is essential for proper alignment.  A product vision statement is defined collaboratively and it is something that should be continued beyond the written document.  It should serve to ground the long term product vision.

    As a PM, if you’re acquiring an existing product you will need to create documentation that defines what your vision is for the changes that need to be made to the product and where you want to lead the product over the next 6 – 12 months.  In defining that product roadmap, you’ll need to use input from the users, their pain points and blockers, i.e. everything sighted in the product vision documentation.  In absence of having product vision documentation, aligning the scrum master, design team, and development team, while pursuing product market fit is not just a challenge, it’s nearly impossible.

Key Takeaway

A great PM understands, develops, elevates, and leverages their unique relationship with the product’s users. Effective product managers make tough decisions and get buy-in from senior management to develop and align on product vision using data and analytics.  

Keep reading:

How to Improve the Conversion Rate on Your Ecommerce Website

A Guide To Customer Journey Maps

Cort Buchholz