How to Manage Product Managers

Andy O'Dower

Head of Product, Programmable Voice at Twilio



"I have worked as a leader of Product Managers at a few different companies. When I have PMs with different strengths, how do I go about reviewing their performance individually and how do I change my management style to match their work style?"

Actions taken

I look at two categories of performance indicators: skill and engagement. Within this, there are four types of employees:

  1. High skill, high engagement. For these employees, my key behavior is to delegate tasks. I can trust that they can work with little oversight.

  2. Low skill, high engagement. This is the case for most junior employees; they may have a lot of drive but don't have the experience to know how to make the right decisions. For these employees, my key behavior is to provide direction.

  3. High skill, low engagement. This is where I would categorize an underperforming employee. In order to discover the reason for low performance, I check for two things:

    • Is it a personal issue unrelated to work?
    • Are our expectations on success in their role misaligned?
  4. Low skill, low engagement. This employee will not last very long, and in this case, I manage out.

Lessons learned

"The most complicated employee to manage is the third category of high skill and low engagement." It's important to look at a 360-degree view of what could be affecting their performance. One thing a lot of managers overlook is a home or personal issue. If you can ask about this in a one-on-one, you can get to the bottom of the problem or rule this out as the issue.

The most common issue that I've seen with these types of employees is that there is a miscommunication on the expectations for their role. For example, if the employee is a PM3 but, in your eyes, they are operating at a PM1, are they aware of the additional responsibility and behaviors expected of a PM3? It is important to make expectations objective; you must lay out very clear behaviors and very clear outcomes of what you are basing your performance judgments. If these expectations are not objective, you will find that the goal posts are always changing. With subjective expectations, you will see that your expectations may not align with what your PMs think is expected of them.

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Andy O'Dower

Head of Product, Programmable Voice at Twilio

CommunicationPerformance ReviewsLeadership Roles

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