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Product Managers and Founders: Ingredients for a Good Relationship

Managing Up
Managing Expectations
Product
Leadership
Internal Communication

27 February, 2020

Herman Man
Herman Man

CPO at BlueVine

Herman Man, CPO at BlueVine, explains how product managers could build and maintain a good relationship with founders with a product mindset.

Problem

Relationships between product managers and founders who built products in the past and have a product mindset can be difficult to maintain and can result in frequent misunderstandings. Founders often lack experience building products in a scaled way which includes building both a team and a product but may have very strong opinions on how things should be done. Therefore, I always thought it was important for me as a leader of product to clearly define roles and product ownerships with product-led CEOs. It can be challenging but it affects not only my work but it has a profound impact on my team as well.

Actions taken

I like to set expectations with founders upfront and to be clear from the very beginning on who does what, what the roles are and who is responsible for what decision. It is important to understand whether the founder cares more about data models, copy or user experience. Talk to your team and peers about what worked in the past with that founder and what is his/her perspective.

The next important decision is to assess when to include the founder in the conversation -- whether to include him/her early or to bring him/her later when more is thought out. All founders are different; there are those who want to be part of the journey, others are acting as gatekeepers while some still just want to see the end result.

When the rules are set, test iteratively across a number of deliverables to see what works and what doesn’t. Tweak and retest. Some ideas look great on paper but in practice, they aren’t as good a solution as initially envisioned. Make any necessary adjustments to find the right framework that works for you.

Lessons learned

  • The more time you spend upfront on getting things right, the fewer worries for you and your team later. By doing this upfront you also build a level of trust with founders. Mindfully include them in the process of establishing rules and regulations that work for both of you. The person brought on a journey can then understand the thought behind the solution.
  • I like to be firm and hold a founder accountable to our agreed-upon framework even if it is uncomfortable at first. If you don’t do it, responsibilities become blurred making it more confusing and difficult for everyone. Do it in a mindful way -- clearly and concisely but also respectfully.

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