03026 Losing the Battle to Win the War

Product Managers are tasked with managing a product. Yet they do not have control over the many departments who do the work of building, marketing, selling, and delivering the product. This means that Product Managers must learn to manage by influence.

For Product Managers, having to manage by influence can lead to a mindset where they view every project on their list of product goals as a war where they must outsmart, outflank, and outlast other managers and departments in order to prevail.

It’s important for a Product Manager to prevail, not for the pleasure of it – although like any job it can be a source of great pride to see your personal stamp on the product – but because the Product Manager is approaching the product from a broader perspective than any single department. Ensuring that this broader perspective gets reflected in the software is critical to the product’s success.

But it can be a problem when you develop a war mentality.

Sometimes the only way you will prevail and benefit over the long term – winning the war – is if you give in on some points in the short term – losing the battle. Read below for some questions to keep in mind to judge whether the battle you’re fighting is worth the victory.


Is It Worth It? Six Questions To Ask

When you’re facing a battle and aren’t sure what victory will get you, try running through these six questions.

Who’s the Real Enemy Here?

It’s so easy to slip into a state of mind where you’re intent on imposing your will on a department. You know why it’s a good idea. It will make their jobs easier, not to mention yours.

But the real enemy is the competition outside the company, not anyone on the inside.

When you’re struggling to measure how important a specific goal is, consider whether accomplishing it will help the product against the competition in any significant way.

You know of a crucial message about the product that rings true with prospects, and Marketing doesn’t want to include it in the collateral. In the end, having the collateral go out to the sales force and the market, and being able as the Product Manager to back up the collateral, is more beneficial for your product.

(Besides, you can always bring up your incredibly good point when presenting the product. It just won’t be in the brochure.)

What’s the True Goal?

Is your true goal to have a software release every three months, or is that merely one way – and a good one, too, but not the only way – of ensuring that development of new features is predictable, steady, and on time?

If predictable and steady is what you want and Development wants to use specific project management techniques to ensure that coding is on plan, why stand in the way if it gets you the result you wanted?

What Have You Got to Lose?

Usually people throw out the question “What have you got to lose?” when they think it’s obvious that the answer is “Nothing at all.” But sometimes your victory today means that you do stand to lose something tomorrow.

If you can sense that a victory today will come at the cost of a manager’s ill will from now until doomsday, you may indeed have a lot to lose. Getting your way this month will pale in comparison to struggling for every little issue for the next twelve. Decide what’s at risk.

Is Time On Your Side?

Sometimes the best ally of a good idea that’s getting nowhere is time – time for the frustration, arguments, and confusion arising out of not heeding your good advice to get the best of those who disagreed with your approach.

And there’s no need to say “I told you so.” If you let time do the bulk of the fighting for you, you’re victory will cost you little.

How Bad Can It Be?

The purpose of all these questions is not to always convince you not to try to get your way. It may be that winning this battle is just what you need in order to avoid paying a much heavier price later. If you’ve experienced it before, if you just know that you and the product are going to suffer, by all means push ahead, and try to win this one.

Can I Live With Defeat?

Run through some what-if scenarios in your mind? What if you don’t get your way this time about an important new feature? How much will this truly impact sales? If you had more time, especially now that you know you’re going to have an uphill fight, will you be in an even better position next time around to back up your argument? Will two or three months give you time to collect supporting research about the feature?

If you just can’t imagine not getting the new feature, it’s probably a good sign that its time has truly come. Use this question to determine whether you’ve reached your bottom line or your non-negotiable principles.

Don’t forget that part of living with defeat is creating a sense of debt on the part of those who prevail. The next release that rolls around may be the time for you to call in some of that good will.

The Ultimate Victory

Sometimes the ultimate victory comes only after compliance and giving in early on. Your teammates will recognize and appreciate your flexibility. More importantly, they’ll understand that you’re listening to them and taking them into consideration. You demonstrate that the solution isn’t all about you, nor is it all about them, it’s about the product. And the vast majority of your teammates will respect that.

— Jacques Murphy, Product Management Challenges


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