The art of managing up

James Engelbert

Head of Product at BT



I have worked on lots of different assignments, switched teams, and communicated with many individuals in my career. At one point in time, I had taken over a team that had lost confidence with some of their senior stakeholders in terms of direction. This team didn't have a clear vision or roadmap or way to measure success so there were questions around the money required to run the team and product.

There was a challenge with product stakeholders (the investor) brand, marketing and interested parties (consulted and informed). We needed them all on the same page so the team could move forward in a positive way.

Actions taken

To begin with, I figured out who the real stakeholders were and what roles they played. Instead of getting wrapped up in the noise, we had to figure out who the main actors were so that we could provide the correct information at the right time.

Once we had the RACI completed, it was time to co-create the vision & strategy. It was important to involve everyone so we could figure out the goals stakeholders had and how the product would help them achieve them. We also wanted to ensure everyone was on the same page in terms of where this product would be positioned in the market and what success looked like. Together we broke it down into short-term goals and a long-term vision.

Since the teams felt that there was not much collaboration, we made it a priority to share information as we released new features and discover new insights. Being upfront with their expectations 一 being clear on what we were going to do, what was to be left on the table, and the implications of that 一 was the key. Ongoing sharing of how what we were creating for customers was tracking towards goals which we agreed in the initial vision and strategy workshops.

This had a double benefit, not only were stakeholders more aligned but the product team felt like there was more structure around what they were building. It was also beneficial in budget discussions with product leadership (the investor).

In terms of how to communicate cross-functionally, what worked well was recording videos during virtual meetings. Traditionally, some product leads would do a weekly report, but what we did was record a quick 3 minute video with the team to give everyone who was interested.

The video doesn't have to be long, in fact it's better if it's a quick, brief revision on what they have been working on. It gives reassurance that things are progressing in the right direction and opens the communication for debate or validation.

Lessons learned

  • Never let communication become a challenge for your team. When creating a product which has multiple stakeholders. Working towards a common goal and communication is the key; communicating and oversharing information would overrun the challenge.
  • Collaboration is essential for companies to break down silos and work together instead of working against each other.

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James Engelbert

Head of Product at BT

Leadership DevelopmentCommunicationOrganizational StrategyTeam & Project Management

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