Need advice on my new PO role

Hello everyone. I’m in need of guidance.

I’ve recently started a PO role with a small company that have been at it for four years.

I’m facing two challenges:

  1. Leadership believe that there is a strategy when it’s technically not a strategy. They tend to view strategy as a way of doing. E.g. Scrum is their product strategy. And making a checklist of requirements with potential customers is their company strategy.

  2. My early assessment is that they are doing WAY too many things at the same time (over multiple products).

We’re hiring more people to solve different problems. All taken directly from potential clients meetings. (The “If you build this, then…” promise.). A strategy to “increase our value”.

There are two dev teams working on 3 products at the same time. I’m assigned as a PO of one of the teams.

Nothing has been in the hands of customers. And what we’re working on won’t be adding any value yet, either.

I’m in desperate need of guidance on what I should do next. Where do I start to eventually reach product success?

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Oh man - this is a big question and I’m not sure a simple message will be enough!

What would be most helpful?

Do you want to talk about trying to manage upwards/lead from below?

How to validate product ideas?

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@Joel, thanks for reaching out. Really appreciate it! As we speak I am working on a Lean Business Case (something my employer has used in the past) for one of the problems we’re solving. I think I should start there. Squeeze myself between the ‘business case’ and the validation of it. I think the most helpful would be a prioritization. An approach on how you’d tackle it. A few things I can think of of doing next:

  • Write up a document laying down the basics of a product strategy as we know it in here in Product Management.

  • Introduce a more focused, outcome oriented roadmap that could help the teams focus.

  • Convince leadership to go with that.

  • Leave it to the management to figure it out and make the best of it. (Hah )

  • Keep acting as a PO and try to manage the backlog to the best of my abilities.

  • Actually go a bit more rogue and acting as if it were my product. All while keeping management in the loop, naturally.

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They are definitely receptive to change. I’ve tried multiple times to sit together with them. And find a way. However, they are confident there is nothing to ‘fix’. So why should they believe me we are in need of something.

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How many psychiatrists does it take to change a lightbulb?

If your bosses don’t see a problem they won’t be motivated to change. They probably like you and are happy to indulge you but that’s not the same as changing how they run the company.

This may not be a solveable problem! But if still want to try, apply your product lens. What the smallest change you could introduce that they would accept?

(And, a side question: what’s your org structure? Who do you report to?)

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The best questions I got from a PM at the early stages where:

  • What is the expected outcome of this feature/idea/project?
  • How we determine its success?
  • How is your confidence level on the impact of this feature/idea/project? Is there data to back it up?
  • What is the long term vision of this product? What pain do you want it to solve, explain or exemplify how.

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Thanks @Naomi. I really like the Confidence Level graph! That might be of help with the leadership!

@Ahmad, I’ve been setting certain milestones for one of our products. It’s a small change but the team likes it. They appreciate knowing ‘what they are working on and towards what’. And I bet it’ll slowly help us get towards where we need to be. But that’s a waiting game that might take too long.

I report to another senior PO that is PO by coincidence. Not choice.

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And is that the product org? Is there product leadership?

If the problem you’re diagnosing is “lack of strategy and too much effort in areas that will have little impact” maybe the small change you make could support that problem. For example, if your company is a feature factory with prioritization driven by customer request, maybe you could add the discipline of estimating impact up front and then reviewing post launch?

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About Product Leadership: Product is pretty much made up out of a CEO and a several industry experts in different roles. A ‘friend circle’, so to speak. (the company is not a SaaS first. To illustrate: only the dev team is on Slack.)maybe you could add the discipline of estimating impact up front and then reviewing post launch?

That’s something I should definitely look into. I’ve made Impact-Versus-effort Matrices before. Maybe I should start with that.

Following that thought: maybe I should define ‘Impact’ first. I’d need to get a better picture of the finances, the assumptions they’ve made, and access to our target segment.

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Allow the product to partially fail/miss big deadline then do a retrospective since you’re using SCRUM. :smile:
During the retrospective invite the C-suite and make sure your team have similar opinions about the change or how you feel about how the product went.

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Thanks @Felipe, :pray: I’m afraid it’ll take too long before the product finds it’s way to our customers.

Focus on validation seems to be our best bet. I’ll use what Enric shared to pry open some resources to go out there and do customer development.

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If its validation, a simple and quick way is to use the lean product launch strategy.

Throw up a landing page, do google and Facebook ads, collect emails, share a Figma or some kind of mockups.

Get feedback on clients on the mockups and road map.

Within a few weeks you should get some early results you can bank on.

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I would suggest you leave copies of EMPOWERED: Ordinary People, Extraordinary Products by Marty Cagan and Chris Jones, lying around the office. A great read for all product people.

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A great book that helped me clarify this at a previous startup is Good Strategy, Bad Strategy. It’s got a great way of articulating what a good strategy looks like.
What is a good strategy?
“Good strategy is coherent action backed up by an argument, an effective mixture of thought and action with a basic underlying structure I call the kernel.”
What is the kernel of a good strategy?
“The kernel of a strategy contains three elements:
A diagnosis that defines or explains the nature of the challenge. A good diagnosis simplifies the often overwhelming complexity of reality by identifying certain aspects of the situation as critical.
A guiding policy for dealing with the challenge. This is an overall approach chosen to cope with or overcome the obstacles identified in the diagnosis.
A set of coherent actions that are designed to carry out the guiding policy. These are steps that are coordinated with one another to work together in accomplishing the guiding policy.”

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Hope it convinces you to buy the book.
Happy to chat in more details.
Feel free to DM me.

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It has been on my reading list! But it’s getting priority now. Sounds like that’s exactly what I need to articulate their need. Thank you. I genuinely appreciate it.
Appreciate you all!

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Some general advice when opinions vary. Don’t try to be a “prophet in your own town”. Find a way for the point you are trying to make to be made by others, on your behalf. So, maybe there is a quote from a recognized authority that makes your point. Maybe you can share some strategic best practices from other companies that drives home your own point.

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As mentioned by someone, if they don’t see it as “broken” or a problem then they won’t change. However, how about reframing the approach so it’s less about fixing something you know is broken but trying new ways of working as an experiment. Could be framed as taking lessons from other super successful businesses or not assuming the way you work today is the best it will ever get etc. Ultimately it gets to a point where showing is more powerful than telling . So work on getting approval for the experiment.
Baby steps

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A contrarian opinion here real quick - but if you’re new to the job perhaps you can focus on earning trust. This company has been at it for 4 years. Something is working. The way things are exists because it’s working. To earn trust do things by following the current playbook and deliver results. After that, your leadership will be more receptive to your ideas on how to make things better. OR if it’s too much work just go find a job somewhere else more product oriented. IMO I don’t believe this is a persuasion or pick the right tools problem.