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Not Taking the Initiative

Leadership
Product Team
Managing Expectations
Handling Promotion

30 October, 2020

Patrick Chen, Lead Product Manager at Next Insurance, recalls how he let someone else make product decisions and how he managed to mend his initial mistake.

Problem

I joined a new team as I moved into a new role. There I found a PM who was assigned to move to a different role but without a defined timeline when this would happen. Though I was in charge of the team, people would often approach or message him unaware of the new circumstances and most stakeholders within the company were perplexed who they should be talking to. Partners, in general, were confused -- they didn’t know who to talk to or what my role was.
 

After talking to my manager I learned that it was not yet decided when this person would move on and leave the team. A leaving-but-not-left PM was very active and eager to get many things done. They would be talking to partners and building commitments without my knowledge. When I raised the issue, for the second time, with my manager, she took it lightly assuring me that it would solve itself. After nothing was resolving for weeks it became increasingly problematic for me.
 

Actions taken

Regardless of what my manager said I should have set some ground rules immediately. I should have requested a clear timeline when this person would be moving off the team and positioned myself as the main point of contact. But, I didn’t do that. Since I didn’t do it at the very beginning, I had to figure out how to do it in the midst of the confusion gracefully. I decided to first talk to a PM who met me but didn’t want to talk about the timeline. Nevertheless, I asked him to acknowledge that I was moving forward and that I was a decision-maker who would engage with customers, especially as we were ramping up new projects. I offered him to put him on a smaller, independent project and have him contribute to those. However, for anything that is larger and requires input from the team I needed not only to be involved but to be an owner. In the end, we aligned unequivocally on roles and responsibilities.
 

The conversation went smoothly because I came from a place where I wanted to help. I clearly demonstrated what my role was and how I was not succeeding in my role. I also pointed that while he was doing well, he could do better if things would be more clearly defined for him too. No one would benefit from being confused about who was in charge and having multiples sources of truth. I didn’t know for how long he would stay there and I didn’t want to disenfranchise but to empower him. I split my engineering team into two, giving him a small group of engineers to focus on smaller projects with short-term resolution.
 

Then I reached out to our partners educating them about who was responsible for which project and asking them to involve the person in charge. My efforts turned out to be fruitful -- they helped streamline processes and I was able to ramp up easier and make a number of successful releases.
 

Lessons learned

  • You need to be proactive. You don’t wait for others to tell you that things will solve themselves. Especially when it comes to the team you are managing and are responsible for.
  • Whenever there is uncertainty or lack of clarity there is a problem. Do not let it linger. You should establish a process to remedy the confusion. If you don’t address it immediately, things would only snowball and become more problematic -- for you and everyone else.

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