As a senior, how would you let your PMs learn? Let them make mistakes or guide them?

How should a manager of PMs balance allowing them to learn from their mistakes with making sure they do a good job of representing themselves, you, and your team?

I’ve managed PMs in a wide range of situations, and I’m recalling one instance where I had a senior PM chair a meeting to discuss the project’s strategy. I collaborated with her on the presentation deck and provided feedback on its weaknesses, potential pushback, etc. I didn’t think the presentation was flawless or up to my expectations as the meeting date drew near, but I didn’t want to push it (we had weeks to prepare).

I finally made the decision to refrain from micromanaging the presentation (I had previously provided plenty of criticism, both directional and specific), reasoning that the last opportunity for growth would come from sharing the direct feedback I received from meeting attendees afterward.

She did Well, but the criticism frequently echoed concerns I had raised throughout the preparation (some more than once), and ultimately it wasn’t a home hit, so I believe some of my peers began to doubt both her ability and my leadership.

I’d love to hear managers’ and PMs’ opinions on how to handle a predicament like this in a way that benefits both them and the team’s representation of the bigger organization. Thanks!


I enjoy leading by example.
I communicate specifics and projects I’ve worked on with each PM I oversee.
As soon as they grasp my fundamentals, I mentor the top performers in the group before leaving the rest up to them. I only participate in any procedure with them as an advisor. Deliveries are repeated in a cycle. Once I give my opinion, we repeat the circle. If everything goes well, they are left alone. Then I give them another PM to observe and learn from
Use the presentation as an illustration.
Since we were working on the project together, I will go over my expectations with them.
I’ll be the copilot when it’s time to present.
Post: I’ll give them some criticism and let them try it again.
I’m merely the audience; others speak on their own.
If everything goes smoothly, I’ll give a pm a shadowing job so they can learn what to expect.
I can then examine their work and participate in their presentation as a copilot when the newer PM has to go through the procedure.
I evaluate the pm I received training by watching them train the new PM, and I evaluated the PM by viewing their presentation.


That’s great! I feel it’s the best way to teach someone. You’re doing a great job. Thanks for sharing your experience. I think many of us should learn from this.


I’ve had a similar situation and usually handled it the same way you did. While most will, some won’t. Before they consume too much of your capital, the ones that don’t, must be eliminated.


I like how you frame it as “most will, some won’t” - people deserve a chance to reach the right level, but patience can’t be infinite. Thanks!


I strongly support Simon Sinek’s philosophy on leadership. Once PMs report to you, you are in charge of the PMs themselves rather than just their work.

The quality of the PMs’ output should no longer be your measurable output because that is their responsibility. Instead, you should be gauging the effectiveness of the PMs themselves.

You must be an effective PM trainer and talent scout. Protect your organization from the bad actors by coaching the good ones.


That second paragraph is very insightful.


What parameters would you use to differentiate between a good and a bad PM?


It’s not OP, but considering your strong remark above, I would personally want to hear your criteria for judging a good vs. bad PM.

You’re bringing to light how fuzzy my response to this question would be: "Engineers and client facing teams alike believe they are being well supported by this PM (engineers have a good balance of requirements/space to create, Product rituals all provide value, other teams feel heard via prioritization.

To measure this in a way that might be used to coach others would be incredibly challenging. I’m considering this more than I ever have because I’m preparing to transition from an IC to a manager of PMs.


Sure @HeatherKurtz. I’m happy to share my viewpoint. Remember that different organizations will require different things from their product teams depending on the stage of development they are in. Not everyone will fit into this. Also, this will be somewhat relative and subjective. It’s alright.

I’m testing them to see if they can overcome Cagan’s “Four Major Risks” (check it up on Google if you’re not familiar). How soon can they recognize them? Can they rank them according to business risk? How much of them can they actually disassemble? Can they design and carry out tests to disprove them? I track how frequently they identify new risks, how quickly they turn those risks into verified learning, and how frequently they meet with me to talk about a pivot.

An example of a good and a bad player.

Situation: We’ve discovered a fresh, underserved segment of our business. It might be larger than the entirety of our company. According to expert market analysis (think Gartner), major companies suffer annual costs of several million dollars as a result of the issue. It’s a genuine issue, and the market is affected. On the line is a live fish for us.

My best PM looks for characteristics in possible early adopters and approaches them to offer to address the problem “by hand” for a fee, much like a consulting service. In the end, they discover that the issue is genuine, that the target client incurs annual expenditures of millions of dollars, and that there are several reasons why it is not in their best interests to fix it.

My worst project manager creates a slide deck that includes a target persona, a list of user behaviors that would validate adoption, a set of metrics that would monitor those behaviors, and a schedule for engineering to develop a “MVP” over the coming months.

My worst PM engaged in what most people would regard as best practice. My finest PM rapidly (and cheaply) tracked down the potential dangers after quickly identifying them, saving us from going out on an expensive wild goose chase.


@RobMartin, Sincere appreciation for your time and insight. As I read it in this context, the comparison between creating slides and speaking with users seems clear, yet I’ve done the former.


Absolutely random thoughts:

I am typically a fairly detached manager. I offer advice, and they are free to accept it. I see it as a staged game that confirms that occasionally I am knowledgeable when they receive later comments from others that echo mine.

Externally, I appreciate it when my colleagues are candid and harsh with my reports. They won’t improve if they take the criticism for my reports in stride; they must take responsibility for their poor work. So if they pursue this vocation further, that is what will be expected of them.

A significant victory was (strongly) recommending that some reports participate in Toastmasters. Being direct when giving presentations to various stakeholders, including answering inquiries from executives both internally and with prospects and customers, will let your audience feel that you have done your research and will effectively complete this project. You’re going to need to reconsider this career and/or leave B2B SaaS if you don’t want to do that.


As a young PM, I would greatly appreciate the feedback.

During the feedback session, I would explain why I disagreed with your views. Since I work for you, if you decide to disagree with my conclusions, I will change the deck in light of your suggestions.


I wish more young PMs had your outlook on life @DaveKim. I believe that the “product ownership” component of PM work in some cases causes younger PMs to crave independence, even from leadership.

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I agree with your approach. It sounds like you had a pretty good balance of coaching and directing.

Ultimately it’s up to ICs to learn, grow, and perform well. Maybe presentations aren’t her strong suit and that’s ok. Maybe there’s opportunity to explore other mediums for her to present information to an audience that could lean more into her strengths. For example: I’d rather record a loom video and then deal with async feedback than live calls. I do my best work when I have the time to think about things. Recording a loom also gives me an opportunity to fine-tune my messaging and deliver something I’m confident in.

As far as how it reflects on you: I don’t know how much that’s relevant here (IMO). If you’ve done your best and you’ve coached this PM to the best of your ability, then I don’t think there’s necessarily a deficiency there. And unless someone has told you “I think this reflects poorly on your leadership” I wouldn’t start predicting that :slight_smile:

Do you manage other PMs to draw some comparisons? Have you coached others in the same/similar way and had them perform better in this type of situation?

Based on what you’re sharing it’s hard to know if this is an isolated event or not.

Things I’d probably ask the PM:

  • How do you think that presentation went?
  • Is there anything you’d change about it?
  • Would you have delivered the information in a different venue/format?

I would hope digging in with her and letting her lead the convo might uncover if this is just a one-off thing or if it’s more deeply engrained and unlikely to change in the future.

I’ll also add: it depends on the feedback. If it’s vague and not actionable, I’d probably not share it and would instead try to unpack it with her indirectly. Meaning if feedback was “this area felt thin” vs. “I would have liked to have understood X and Y from this part of the presentation” I wouldn’t share that with the PM. I would probably instead treat it like discovery and just ask questions about that slide to try and have the PM come to her own conclusions that address that feedback/concern.

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This is a great answer @AnushkaGarg, thank you. This was one example of a situation that happened a couple of times. She has showed some growth but not quickly enough for our needs. I have other PMs as direct reports and they are a bit more skilled in this part of the job so have integrated my feedback better and been a bit stronger to start out with.

I don’t think it’s the live meeting aspect that is an issue, it’s more the storytelling of explaining the strategy and what all went into it. It’s a hard one to teach, I think. But I’m also realizing I may not have been clear enough about how important this is. I.e. “if your presentations don’t get better you won’t be successful in this role”

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