Product managers are used to dealing with a high level of uncertainty in the daily work that we do. We’re masters at handling unknowns and building contingency plans within contingency plans to keep our work going in the right direction. It’s a necessary evil in our world, as we’re often bombarded with new information, blocking issues, client requests, and executive direction — which at any time can entirely contradict our settled strategy.
In times like this, organizations as a whole are being exposed to the kind of uncertainty that product managers face regularly. Teams that are used to things running on schedule, operating like a finely tuned machine, or regularly meeting long-term expectations are being forced to adjust to a new reality. This reality is one that’s full of uncertainty, from all directions — customers, co-workers, market forces, finances, and of course, personal health and well-being.
As experts in dealing in the domains of the unknown, product managers owe it to their organizations to step in and help to coach others in the organization through these challenges. We bring a unique perspective to the table, and can communicate and train others to use some of the very tools that we deploy every day to deal with uncertainty. The time is here for product managers to provide more than just product leadership — we must reinforce our role in the organization as leaders in general. We must share our specific set of skills and coping mechanisms with teams struggling to deal with what may very well become a “new normal”.
Some specific actions that you can take tomorrow as a product manager to help others in your organization deal with the unknowns and uncertainty posed by the current crisis include:
- Establish regular, brief checkpoints on a regular, accelerated basis, so that everyone available has eyes and ears on the challenges others are facing. We know that dealing with uncertainty often requires a group effort and thrives in transparency.
- Schedule brown bag or other information discussion/training sessions to provide insight into how product management teams deal with uncertainty. Sharing what we already know works provides others insight into how to adopt/adapt those behaviors for their own gain.
- Encourage over-communication rather than under-communication where topics of uncertainty or risk are identified. Chaos thrives in the darkness, while order is found in transparency and openness.
Product management teams have a prime opportunity to establish themselves as leaders in their organization and to coach others on how to deal with uncertainty. Building in tolerance of the unknown is a key cultural transformation that is required to effectively focus on delivering products and not merely projects.