I’ve been managing a PM who moved from another department within the org. through a lateral transfer. They were fairly new to the org. to begin with. They started reporting to me due to an org change and has been the set up for the last 6 months.
Their levelling is quite senior, but they are struggling to the basics:
- Product Roadmapping
- Product Execution
- Analytical chops
- Stakeholder management
- Product sense (major red flag)
But I do see them excel in areas such as:
- Bringing teams together
I have done several things in the last few months to help them learn these skills for PM - worked with them 1:1 spending several hours on them as compared to the other reports I have and also recommended them for learning and development in these areas. There are patterns to their behaviours as well. They really need a lot of support (more than my other junior PMs) in every single task “assigned” to them. This is another area - they are not able to self identify what they should be doing to start and execute the task assigned to them, even tasks that are similar to the ones they handled before that I helped them with. Finding problems to solve is galaxies away.
Would it make sense to help them further in the PM career? Is this a lack of opportunities to learn these skills or a wrong fit for PMing? I’m increasingly convinced that this PM job is a wrong fit for them and in the long run they may not be able to get fulfilment from their work or make an impact. If it is indeed a wrong fit, how do I approach the subject with them where they don’t get defensive or gaslight me?
I’m really concerned about this because until now, I strongly believed that PMing is not rocket science and that anyone should be able to do. But seeing this person struggle, I am wondering if it is indeed a hard skill.
Another aspect of this problem is also how it is affecting the morale of the rest of my team. One of them even hinted it openly to me during my 1:1s about how much I’m protecting this particular senior PM, that they are not able to get ahead without my help.
The third aspect is that - since I’m spending too much time shaping their product along with them, I am not able to spend as much time in the other areas of my portfolio and help other PMs shape their product.
Are you able to discuss this with their old manager? If they were succeeding there, then it might be worth learning what’s different. Product Management looks very different depending on context.
If they weren’t, it’s potentially time to talk to HR and your manager about transitioning this person out.
If this person is levelled as a senior and they aren’t, then you need to decide whether to invest in this person or let them go. In most countries I’m aware of, lowering their title would effectively be a constructive dismissal and not really an option. Until they upskill, which can take years, your org is off balance. It will be apparent to the rest of the org and will undermine the PMs ability to be effective.
If you do decide to keep this person, they need to be clear on where they are underperforming and really focused on bridging those gaps. It’ll be a time sink for you, and that’s something you need to accept.
The fact that your team is already giving you this type of feedback means you have not acted fast enough (feel free to DM to discuss how I learned this the hard way).
I would also question your statement about product management not being rocket science. I agree about the project management aspects of PM but a great to exceptional product sense is hard to find or develop! I have done a few lateral transfers but for transfers to a PM role, product sense potential is a must.
Jumping to conclusions here probably but sounds to me this person has a better skill set for project management than product management, or is at least closer to filling a project manager role. Maybe your org has something along those lines (maybe their previous position was something along those lines?) and you could open up a discussion about looking at that career path instead. What is clear is that you do not have a product manager at your hands (and definitely not a senior one) and if that’s what your team needs to succeed then this person has to move elsewhere so you can fill the position with a product manager. If someone is struggling with learning stuff at this stage I would be skeptic about their willingness to learn (motivation) not whether they have what it takes (intellect, product sense). Product management is not rocket science IF you are motivated, willing to learn and apply what you’ve learned.
Lots of good replies so far.
Another take on this.
I may be overanalyzing but I feel some sort of subtext there about you doubting your ability to teach product management to a person.
It’s this sentence:
I’m really concerned about this because until now, I strongly believed that PMing is not rocket science and that anyone should be able to do.
and this one:
I’m increasingly convinced that this PM job is a wrong fit for them and in the long run they may not be able to get fulfilment from their work or make an impact.
I feel like the story you have in your mind goes something like this:
Anyone should be able to do product management. So if I as a manager/coach can’t get them there then maybe there is something wrong with me.
Now, if the “PM job is a wrong fit” for this person then it’s not on me anymore. And that solves it. No need to investigate where I lack as a manager/coach.
Don’t play this game. Don’t torture yourself about where you lack as a manager. You sound like a good manager. One that self-reflects and cares about their employees. Otherwise, you wouldn’t write this type of post.
And don’t make this person wrong. They may be a good fit for PM at another company. Just not yours.
So, ask yourself this:
Knowing what you know now, would you have handled this situation differently a few months/weeks ago?
Do this not to make your past self right or wrong. Do it in order for your present self to capture the value of the lesson learned.
And the answer may be that you wouldn’t have done anything different other than having less guilt now. That’s a lesson in itself
Now, if there is stuff you could’ve done differently, you could share that with the PM in order to create a safe environment for them to be open to telling you what they think you can do differently now to help them.
Let’s dive deep into each area. Without knowing the size of your company, or your own title, things might differ.
Product Roadmapping: Do you have a system set up for your team where you as sets product leader set up the Scope from the overall product vision, and the PMs that report to you work on the Epics, User Stories, and Features?
Product Execution: Do you Fibonacci story point, with a good methodology for back logging stories that are too complex? How do you as a product leader manage dependencies between your PMs?
Analytical chops: sometimes this comes down to whether there’s tooling in place to extract the analytics for your products (eg. Mixpanel). As a product leader, have you set up these systems in place?
Communication: are they able to switch context depending upon the audience? (High level for executives, versus detailed for engineers)
Stakeholder management: I do not know whether HIPPO runs in your company but assuming that it does, has your PM done stakeholder mapping and prioritization, and then decided whether to communicate outcomes vs outputs to the respective stakeholder?
Product Sense: Is the problem here related to your PM’s inability to understand overall user needs, competitive position of the product in the market, or to decide how to iterate the product through incremental improvements?
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