At a small company without any formal product management, we’re trying to implement product management procedures. Throughout the various product management and NPD processes, such as developing a business case, MRD, PRD, Product Roadmap, etc., multiple stakeholders from various departments are involved. But how exactly should disputes between stakeholders be resolved? Currently, the stakeholders (department heads) must give their approval at each level of the NPD. The PM is the head of the marketing department, hence they currently have an equal amount of decision-making authority to that of the other department leaders. In most organizations, does the PM normally have more authority to make decisions pertaining to products? Who normally makes the final decision when stakeholders are unable to agree? Who at your company ultimately decides which products to sell? What happens during the decision-making process? What happens when multiple stakeholders disagree?
How is this usually handled, I wonder?
Any suggestions would be much appreciated.
Final judgement belongs to the P&L holder for that business line. People typically realize that product comes first among equals, therefore we’ll make the decision before a disagreement is resolved by the P&L leader. I do not manage a business that is consensus-oriented and requires buy-in from all stakeholders.
Actually, it’s quite difficult to split that alliance as long as product engineering and sales are on the same page. These three groups represent the business’s growth engine, and I’ve seen numerous shared service CEOs try to sabotage them in the past.
If the PM doesn’t have the last say, that is a cultural issue. Nothing further. Because of their sheer quantity, services predominated the roadmap in the consensus-oriented strategy that I inherited. Within a year, product had taken over with an iron but soft fist, and we had begun growing our top line while reducing costs.
@DamianMarshall, This applies to our company also. Product has almost complete discretion, but in a significant disagreement, the P&L owner and product must reach a VP-level agreement. Since they control the budget that product receives, the P&L owner might theoretically reduce strategic funding. However, we have strategic planning that is in line with the market plans even if they are not aligned at the project level.
Then, we have important stakeholders, such as the legal or ethical communities, who essentially have a degree of veto power over our roadmaps.
Depends on company culture. Set a precedent - especially one for handling HiPPOs. The Highest Paid Person’s Opinion (HiPPO) problem occurs when decision-making is dominated by the highest ranking (or most senior member), even if their views are not entirely objective.
According to my experience, a company’s size, culture, and leadership style can all have a significant impact on the decision-making process. I believe it’s critical to have a defined procedure for making decisions. There may be a way to escalate this to greater levels. Additionally, having analytics and important results in place might be incredibly helpful. Disagreements ought to be resolved by the data-driven strategy.
The decision-making power within product management processes can vary across organizations, and there is no one-size-fits-all answer. The level of decision-making authority given to product managers often depends on the company culture, organizational structure, and the specific dynamics of the stakeholders involved.
In some organizations, the product manager may have the final say on product-related decisions, while in others, decisions may be made collectively through consensus among stakeholders. Here are a few approaches commonly used to handle disputes and decision-making in product management:
Consensus-based decision-making: This approach involves bringing all stakeholders together to discuss and reach an agreement on product-related decisions. The product manager plays a facilitator role, ensuring that all perspectives are considered and helping the group come to a consensus.
Cross-functional alignment: It’s important to foster cross-functional collaboration and alignment throughout the product management process. Regular meetings and communication channels should be established to encourage open dialogue among stakeholders. This helps to reduce conflicts and facilitates decision-making by incorporating input from multiple perspectives.
Data-driven decision-making: Relying on data and evidence can help mitigate disputes and provide a more objective basis for decision-making. Encourage stakeholders to provide data-backed arguments and make decisions based on metrics, user research, market analysis, and other relevant data sources.
Escalation to higher authority: In situations where consensus cannot be reached, there may be a need to escalate the decision to higher management or an executive sponsor. This should be a last resort and used sparingly to avoid creating a culture of constant escalation.
To establish a clear decision-making framework for product management, consider defining the roles and responsibilities of stakeholders involved in the process. This could include clarifying the decision-making authority of the product manager and other department heads. Openly communicate the decision-making structure to all stakeholders so that expectations are clear.
Ultimately, it’s crucial to find a balance that works for your organization. The goal is to foster collaboration, leverage expertise from different departments, and make decisions that align with the company’s overall strategy and objectives. Regularly review and refine your decision-making processes based on feedback and lessons learned to improve effectiveness over time.
In my company, the product manager makes the choice, but is expected to take into account all input and be ready to defend it.
A large decision should only be escalated to the P&L owner if there is a fundamental misalignment between the key stakeholders (for example, the product manager and solution architecture cannot agree on anything).
There are fewer choices made at the director level, but we have one VP who is very loud and essentially always gets his way. He’s a major bottleneck, and it’s challenging to let directors manage their staff, so it’s an issue.
Additionally, the lack of a strong high level strategy for delegation frustrates him. takes too long on particular features.
Final product decisions are made by the CEO. And with good reason. Even though they might not be privy to every piece of low-level information, they set the corporate vision. They are responsible for all that we do. They are accountable.
If there are disagreements, managers move them up the hierarchy as they resolve them.
Dealing with an outspoken VP who tends to dominate decision-making can be challenging, especially when it hampers the autonomy of other directors and hinders high-level strategy. Here are a few suggestions to address this situation:
- Facilitate open communication: Encourage open and honest communication among all stakeholders, including the VP, directors, and other team members. Create a safe environment where everyone feels comfortable expressing their opinions, concerns, and ideas.
- Clearly define roles and responsibilities: Establish clear roles and responsibilities for each individual involved in the product management process. This clarity helps to set expectations and boundaries for decision-making authority. Ensure that directors have the necessary autonomy to lead their teams effectively.
- Align on high-level strategy: Work towards aligning the VP and other stakeholders on the high-level strategy for the organization. Engage in strategic discussions to ensure that everyone understands and agrees upon the overarching goals and objectives. This can help shift the focus from individual features to a more holistic and strategic approach.
- Present data and evidence: Use data and evidence to support decision-making. Encourage the VP to consider objective information and insights from market research, user feedback, and other relevant sources. Demonstrating the impact of data-backed decisions can help shift the focus towards a more strategic perspective.
- Encourage delegation and trust: Encourage the VP to delegate tasks and responsibilities to directors, allowing them to take ownership of their teams and projects. Building trust in the capabilities of the directors can help alleviate the bottleneck created by the VP’s involvement in individual features.
- Seek executive support: If the situation persists and the VP’s dominance becomes a significant impediment, consider discussing the issue with higher-level executives or the VP’s supervisor. Provide examples and evidence of the negative impact on the organization’s productivity, decision-making processes, and overall success. Executive intervention may be necessary to help address the issue effectively.
Remember that changing such dynamics takes time and patience. It may require a gradual shift in culture and mindset within the organization. By promoting open communication, aligning on strategy, and addressing the issue in a respectful manner, you can work towards a more balanced and collaborative decision-making environment.
In my company, the boss makes the decision. What he likes, we do to keep him happy. Ranging from marketing strategy to product design to customer service to sales.
You are correct @FelipeRibeiro, in many organizations, the CEO holds the ultimate decision-making authority and is responsible for setting the company’s vision and strategy. As the top executive, the CEO’s role often involves making high-level product decisions and being accountable for the company’s overall performance.
In situations where disagreements arise among stakeholders, it is common for those disagreements to be escalated to higher levels of management. This escalation allows managers and executives to work through the issues and make decisions that align with the company’s goals and objectives.
By involving higher-level managers in the decision-making process, it helps ensure that multiple perspectives are considered, and decisions are made in the best interest of the company as a whole. This approach allows for broader input and expertise to be taken into account, rather than relying solely on the viewpoint of one individual or department.
The involvement of higher-level management also helps create a framework for resolving disputes and reaching consensus when needed. It ensures that decisions align with the company’s strategic direction and that any potential conflicts or bottlenecks are addressed in a structured manner.
Ultimately, having a clear escalation path and involving higher-level management in decision-making can provide a mechanism for resolving disagreements and ensuring that decisions are made in line with the company’s vision and objectives.
It depends on the decision:
- Strategic importance
- One way door vs. two way door
- Blast radius
I own a focus area with three teams, two of them with me as the PM. I get to propose our roadmap but I’m expected to consider all the inputs of the business, make sense of them and come up with the what will best execute on the strategy, which is set by the head of product.
I can reject ideas from senior stakeholders but need to provide sound justification. That means understanding the costs, expected returns etc. If I reject something because I simply don’t like it, I’ll not be well received.
Once we’re aligned on what we’re going to do, we then get into discovery and delivery. I make decisions with my eng and design counterparts and this can be a challenge because we are meant to work together as a unit. This is good in theory but can lead to decision making by committee.
The business is moving towards PMs as the main decision makers but I still need to listen to the ideas of the designers and engineers I work with and provide sound reasoning. When we don’t agree, I usually simply escalate but we are moving to a place where I’ll simply be able to say no.
So, what about your questions?
But how exactly should disputes between stakeholders be resolved?
I see the PMs job as the person who takes all the ideas, fleshes them out and provides a simple comparison of all the options with their pros and cons. It’s very easy to be annoyed if you really want a feature and product just say no. It’s much better for the PM to compare their ideas against others that have been proposed and show the expected customer impact and cost. When they see that their “simple” idea would actually take 6 months to build and would only appeal to 3% of the customer base, they understand that it shouldn’t be the top priority.
In most organizations, does the PM normally have more authority to make decisions pertaining to products? Who normally makes the final decision when stakeholders are unable to agree?
I guess it depends on how high the disagreement goes. Typically speaking, yes. But sales organizations can be very influential and this may result in a disagreement between the head of product and head of sales. In my experience, that’s a fundamental misalignment. The product from the head of product should be aligned with the rest of the business (or people who are against it should disagree and commit). So, there’s a healthy level of disagreeing on what is most impactful vs. playing politics. This really depends on the leadership of your organization. To answer your question more directly, PM should have more decision making power but be fully accountable for those decisions. But this doesn’t always happen and the result is usually and underperforming feature factory.
Thank you all for your very helpful and interesting insights. I truly appreciate the valuable perspectives shared by each and every one of you. Your input has not only been helpful, but also intriguing, making this discussion even more enriching.