As product managers, our work lives revolve around working with cross functional groups. Leading by influence and not much authority, our jobs are to motivate people to get things done for the benefit of the paying customer. Sounds easy right? But when different groups have their own goals and priorities, a product manager’s job often feels like herding cats. Even after 13+ years of doing product management in multiple companies, I am in no way close to mastering this. It is easy to unknowingly step on some one else’s shoes. It is easy to get emotionally attached to problems and solutions.
Last week when I was reflecting on my years of experience and the instances where leading a cross functional team had been challenging, something very simple occurred to me. What if we product managers always use the following as a guiding principle – Ask yourself “What? When?How? Who? and in that order”.
- What is the problem to be solved? – Do we agree?
- When do we need to solve it by? – Determine the priority – is it something important to solve, is it worth the time and effort?
- How do we best solve the problem? – What is the best possible solution?
- Who is the expert(s) in the team that is best equipped to solve the problem?
If we approach any problem in the following sequence, I think things will fall into place. The biggest challenge usually is getting everyone aligned first on the problem to be solved, then the timeline and then how best to solve it. Once the consensus sets in and team feels invested in solving the problem, who needs to do the work to solve the problem becomes the easy task. I am not trying to discount in any way that it then becomes a cakewalk, but such a structure I believe will allow all involved to step away from their emotional engagement with a problem and look at it in a very objective manner.
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