Holistic Detectives and Product Managers

In 1987, Douglas Adams, most famously known as the author of the "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" trilogy, released a new book "Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency." The book is quite entertaining, as is the show on BBC America by the same name.  The premise of both is that Dirk Gently operates his detective agency that operates based on the "fundamental interconnectedness of all things."

In the book, Dirk Gently, the protagonist declares: “Let's think the unthinkable, let's do the undoable. Let us prepare to grapple with the ineffable itself, and see if we may not eff it after all.”

It's humorous, but it's also a great call to action for product managers.

Everything IS Connected

A product is where all the supporting teams are connected, which is why a product manager is needed. Every other team is constrained by their core activity. If you're on a development team or design team, 80% of your time has to be focused on development or design to be successful.

The product manager is the only person with the freedom to pursue the connections between teams, to make sure everyone is on the same page, and to ensure the product is tracking towards it's goal.

Communication

Given the freedom of action, it's important for the product manager to communicate frequently with all of the contributing teams and stakeholders. This communication is essential for building engagement, which leads to the collaboration that results in success.

One of the challenges of product management is that the contributors to the product report to other people. However, engagement can always trump autocracy. When you build a compelling vision, and allow others to contribute to that vision, you can leverage their internal motivation to help your product succeed. But it's important that you let them contribute. If you insist on a "perfect" product, and prevent iterative improvement, not only will you slow the development cycle, but you will also undermine morale and engagement.

Tactics and Strategy

To support effective iteration and quick collaboration between teams and team members, it's important to distinguish tactics from strategy. What the product will be should be strategically important, but how it is delivered shouldn't be. Delivery is tactical, provide your development team the freedom to solve their own tactical problems, let them interact with the resources they need directly. Erecting barriers to free communication only serves to slow things down.

Effectiveness

Effectiveness as a product manager will be determined by the engagement of the people contributing to the effort. Disengaged developers, designers, and project managers will never create a great product; they will produce something mediocre at best.

In product management, everything is connected, and it's connected through the product manager. That may make the job stressful, but it's also the source of the product manager's influence.