How do non-product execs contribute to the product without being controlling?
Last week, a CMO asked me how she could be a good partner to product given that she didn’t have a background in that discipline. (A wonderful question!) Broadening it slightly, let’s ask this:
How can any non-product exec—e.g. CEO, COO, CMO, CRO—contribute to the product development process, without being controlling or prescriptive, especially if they do not have a product background?
It boils down to two things:
Be a thought partner
Lead through context, not control
Last time addressed the foundation of thought partnership. To recap, execs can help make the product better by being a thought partner to question and improve the thinking process of those that are doing the building. This is true even if the stakeholder doesn’t have a background in product, design, or engineering. You can still improve the thinking process.
But what does it mean to lead through context, not control?
While evangelizing and continually refreshing the strategic context for the product team is an essential job of the product leader, the overall context is the responsibility of the overall company leaders.
What does this mean in practice?
The people on the product team—PMs, designers, engineers, data scientists, etc—are constantly making decisions about what to build, what to cut, and how. They are in a never-ending creative tension with the mandate to create a product users/customers love, and that also works for the company.
If product teams don’t share the context held by company leaders, they won’t make decisions company leaders will back.
If you want the product team(s) to make choices that work for your part of the business, they need to understand how you see the strategic context. What is important? What isn’t? Why? How is the landscape changing? What is your part of the business learning?
Yes, this is a lot of information. Some execs fear that it’s too much for product teams, who should “just focus on coding.”
This context is not too much, it is exactly what the folks on the product team need to understand to make lower-level decisions that align with the higher-level course that you, as a company leader, are helping guide.
The product team has to make decisions that work for the business, and they won’t do that if they don’t understand how you see things from your POV.
Yes, PMs should ask. And, leaders need to share.