Hot Product Managers vs. Cool Product Managers

About Product Management, stakeholders and other demons.

In McLuhan’s most relevant book “Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man”, he proposes a way to categorise media according to various sensory effects associated with the media.

This idea is not hard to extrapolate to other scenarios. Let’s think of communication as a whole and add it to a concrete example: the communication between Product Managers and their peers.

How many times we’ve seen a Product Manager that communicates a feature request with all their details already preconceived, a manager that goes to their designers knowing and already mind-seeing what everything should look like?

Many times.

Now, how often we’ve seen the other face of the coin? Stakeholders with really poor descriptions of an idea, or with an idea that is not aiming to solve any concrete problem or adding any value to the company, or something that just does not fit at all with the mission and vision of the company?

Many times too.

It’s really easy to pair McLuhan’s definitions with these last two descriptions.

The Hot Product Management means bringing everything “done” to a grooming session. On the other hand the Cool version is the one that pitches ideas incomplete or senseless to their peers and let the team do whatever they need to do to achieve the idea(?).

The Hot Product Manager

There are certain symptoms that can be seen when this shows up. The list is quite long, here are just a few examples:

  • Poor engagement of the team
  • Teams feeling as a feature factory
  • Lack of understanding of company goals
  • Focus on the wrong priorities
  • Thinking of small details instead of the big picture
  • Over-communication
  • And so on …

Think always that your mates, in your teams struggle everyday with many factors. They all want to give the best they can. There is nothing more rewarding than someone who pushes hard to have an impact as a team on the company mission. For the employee and for the company. So this is a win-win case.

If this is not solved or balanced, at the end it will devastate your peers, the whole team and consequently will have a negative impact on the company.
So, fellow PM, do not ignite to your team, or you can burn everything around.

Opposite to there is the role of the PM before the stakeholders. In this case, the Product Manager should be hotter than with the team. An idea can not be presented to the stakeholders incomplete or missing parts as any idea should be completed before been sent to development.

The Cool Product Manager

The Cool Product Manager is the one delivering incomplete ideas to engage the team. The goal is for the PM to empower the team to complete the ideation of a feature and to create it by themselves. As you can see this can be also quite dangerous.

You will see a loss of big picture because there is not direction. The team defines always by themselves what, how and why to do it. If this is not aligned with the company objectives it can result in a chaos.

It sounds familiar: micromanagement and macromanagement in a nutshell. The hot and the cool PM.

As you can see it is all about communication. Product Management is also, most of the time, about communication. I think this is an undervalued characteristic of a Product Manager.

Being a good communicator does not mean, that you can speak with grace and professionally to your audience. In this context, being good communicator means to communicate the right message according to your audience, to their context and the medium you use.

You don’t communicate a message the same way to developers that to shareholders. The receiver of your message influences the message it self. So much as the medium you use to transmit the message.

A message said in a meeting is not the same message said in a conference or written in a documentation, even when the context is the same. When you communicate with stakeholders the product manager should turn more hot than cool. Most of the time stakeholders do not have enough time to think much on what are you presenting but they need to participate, and collaborate with the message.

That collaboration can not be compared with the level of collaboration of a developer, for instance. In this case the Product Manager needs to be cooler.
As always, the answer is “it depends”.

So, we can summarise this article like this:
Be a hot Product Manager (not burning) for your stakeholders and cool (not freezing) to your team.

Some things to pay attention to avoid being so hot/cool.

  • Get to know your peers. There are excellent materials by Tim Herbig that describes how to grow your empathy to all the members of your team.
  • Just give the right information to your team in order for them to understand and start creating. Remember always, they are the experts, you are the facilitator, who should keep everyone aligned with the right communication.

First published by Hackernoon

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