June 28, 2017

Product Management styles: which ones to go for and when?

In our last blog about Emotional Intelligence, we discussed how PM’s can deal with their teammates and customers. We saw it only fitting to follow up on it with a post about the different PM styles. It is more of a guide for managers. They can adopt each style depending on the situation they are in.

It’s true that product management focuses on completing working product, meeting deadlines, and all the chaos in between. But product management is also all about dealing with people, knowing how to increase efficiency, managing risk, and communicating like crazy!

Every situation you come across as a PM is different from the one before or even after it. Circumstances change as the company grows. Going from a small team working on an MVP to a full body improving a solid-fully-functioning product. At each stage, you have new requirements, people, demands, and thus you start developing different mindsets. This is mainly why analysts came up with 6 different types of manager profiles to make things a bit easier to picture.

First style, we have The DIRECTIVE (Coercive)

This is the rigid “do it the way I tell you” manager. He closely controls employees and motivates them by threats and discipline. This is effective when there is a crisis, little time to waste on mistakes, and the team is not used to the work style.

However, it is very ineffective when either the employees are underdeveloped and so very little learning happens within the team while following this style. Or when employees are highly skilled. They end up getting frustrated and resentful at the constant micromanaging.

Story time!

When a very critical deadline is coming up and the product is nowhere near finished, the PM needs to step things up. He becomes strict with the team, the requirements, and the sub-deadlines. It’s almost like raising the red flag to warn everybody and make sure they are being efficient.

In some cases, a PM’s report can remove someone from the team because of negative feedback about slowing down the progress! This is not a PM’s favorite hat to wear but sometimes extreme measures need to be taken to save the company.

Another style is The AUTHORITATIVE (Visionary)

This is your “firm but fair” manager. He gives employees clear direction and motivates his team by persuasion and feedback on task performance.

Highly effective when the team needs clear directions and standards and the leader is knowledgeable and credible. On the other hand, it’s highly ineffective when (a) the employees are underdeveloped, meaning that they need guidance on what to do most of the time; (b) the leader is not credible. People usually won’t follow a vision when they don’t even believe in it.

Story time!

When a PM is authoritative, he tends to be the “I’m tough for your own good” manager.Say you’re new to the company and are not that used to how things work, the pace, the overall culture, etc.

You will need guidance, of course, but since the company probably can’t afford delays due to some “getting-used-to”, the PM will have to be a bit strict. He will help you get the hang of things, help you learn and adapt, but don’t expect him to be so lenient when it comes to undelivered work or unaccomplished tasks.

The PARTICIPATIVE (Democratic) style

This type of PM is usually the “everyone has input” manager. He encourages his employees’ input in the decision-making process and motivates them by rewarding team effort.

It works best when the employees have enough experience and credibility and are collaborating together within a steady working environment. It is least effective though in times of crisis. When the employees lack competency and must be coordinated all the time, the democratic style becomes a hindrance rather.

Story time!

The approaches to managing a team are different, depending on the PM but also depending on the structure of the team. When you have a team that’s highly dependent on each other, you will need to create a balance to make sure that all voices are heard.

For example, the developer needs to get feedback from the designer who discussed the colors scheme with the marketer who decided on the strategy after the budget meeting with the accountant. Everyone is interrelated and the more people contribute and share their opinion, the better the product will turn out.

There is also The AFFILIATIVE style

The typical “people first, tasks second” manager. He tries to avoid conflict and emphasizes good personal relationships among employees and motivates by trying to keep people happy.This is effective when used with other styles.It’s mostly about managing conflict within the company since it’s about counseling or helping management optimize their practices and team spirit.

At the same time, unless the tasks have a certain routine and the performance is adequate, this style can be very ineffective. Meaning that it doesn’t work when affiliation does not emphasize performance or when there are crisis situations needing urgent and strict direction.

Story time!

As a PM, it’s important to be people-oriented. You making sure that the team is motivated enough and getting together well is key to its success.When the team is bonding, getting to know each other on a more personal level, and feeling at ease when working in the same space, productivity is bound to go up. There is less tension between peers and everyone is on the same wavelength.Product Managers need to always help their team members feel safe, empowered, and most of all, appreciated.

Before last, we have the PACESETTING style

You know there is always the  “do it myself” manager around the corner. He’s the PM that performs many tasks personally and expects employees to follow his/her example. He motivates by setting high standards and expects self-direction from employees.This is effective when people are highly motivated and competent -experts in what they do even. That's why, in such situations, little direction and coordination is required to get the job done.That being said, this style is less effective when the workload requires assistance from others and employees need to be constantly coached and coordinated.

Story time!

Sometimes, you just need to do things yourself. As simple as that. We’ve all had that moment where you feel like you either need to finish one task yourself or make a quick sample for everyone to follow. It gets things going faster, it’s easy, and it requires less time to make the task fit the vision.When you’re working with quick-witted experts who know what to do without you going into detail makes tasks easier to carry out. You save time, energy, and get things done much faster.Let’s suppose you’re working on developing the platform’s UI. Having an expert developer definitely helps when you’re not happy with a feature. As soon as you point it out, he already knows what you mean and has already started working on tweaking it. Either it’s telepathy or pure magic, it sure has its own good feeling and sends some positive vibes among the team that’s witnessing the moment.

And finally, last but not least, the COACHING style

The “developmental” manager. He helps and encourages employees to develop their strengths and improve their performance. He motivates them usually by providing opportunities for professional development.This works best when the team's skills need to be developed but also when employees are motivated and open to development.By contrast, this style fails when the leader lacks the necessary expertise or when there is a crisis. Also, it is useless when performance discrepancy is too great. Meaning that coaching managers may be better and more fruitful than exiting a poor performer.

Story time!

It is always a good thing to have a PM who is looking after his teammates and their professional well-being. When a member evolves, the team gains another skill. But when a team grows, the whole company benefits.As a PM, it is always considered a win when a team member learns a new thing and evolves professionally. Keep that in mind!To sum it up, there are different ways to manage a team. Whether you're a strict leader, an inspiring one, or both, or none, it doesn't matter. At the end of the say, you know better how your team works and so you know what works best with them and when.