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Product Management: Beware of Flying Monkeys

In 2009, while guest posting on Lead on Purpose, I recalled a story about “Flying Monkeys.” You know, the unsolicited requests that usually surface from different areas of your organization, usually on behalf of customers and prospects, or at least the loudest ones. If you’ve never experienced it, here’s what happens.

flying-monkeysImagine you’re sitting with your product team. You’re reviewing win/loss analysis, discussing priorities in your backlog or engaged in a lively discussion, when all of a sudden, Flying Monkeys (Wizard of Oz style) dive into the room via text messages, phone calls, urgent emails and team members interrupting activities in progress.

All at once, the teams shouts, “Flying Monkeys – Flying Monkeys!” The monkeys quickly grab product management, product marketing and development resources, and quicker than you could say, “There’s no place like home” your product roadmap, backlog and teams are tossed into turmoil like a Kansas barnyard in a summer twister.

Pressured with executive and sales commitments, how do you and your team manage the flying monkeys?

Product management, product marketing and its leadership have to be vigilant and plan for these unexpected diversions. While product leaders know they have all the responsibility and often none of the authority, you must focus on what matters most and be grounded in data, artifacts and evidence.

Leaders of product management and product marketing have a responsibility (yes, I said responsibility) to establish and maintain visibility with executives and stakeholders, and provide crisp communications that influence product strategy and provide business insights.

Ground the Flying Monkeys

If your executives regularly meet or visit customers and prospects, prepare them in advance. Some of the things I’ve used include:

  • Regularly socialize current trends in the market.
  • Communicate market sensing information found in win/loss analysis, customer interviews and competitive analysis.
  • Maintain a roadmap for external consumption. (Make sure it defensible and simple. – Provide a script and preview it before a presentation, visit or trip.
  • Create 3-4 crisp points that position your company and products.
  • Know your competition and articulate this to senor stakeholders and executives.

In the series, How to be a Great Product Manager, Saeed Khan shares the four C’s of Leadership that each Product Management and Product Marketing leader should embrace. The Four C’s include:

  • Credibility – leadership begins with credibility. If people aren’t willing to believe you and trust what you say, then there is no way you’ll be given authority to do anything significant.
  • Commitment – demonstrate commitment to your product’s success. In your current job as a Product Manager, have you bound yourself to the success of your product? Or are you just going through the motions and simply doing the job? People want to see that product managers truly care about product success and figuring out what is right and best for their product.
  • Communication – No amount of credibility can be retained if communication barriers exist between a leader and his/her followers. Leaders must be able to communicate their thoughts, ideas, visions and strategies clearly and succinctly, and in such a way that those listening are inspired to want to be part of the plans the leader is proposing.
  • Courage – the most challenging of the 4 Cs. The difference between a leader and a manager is the leader’s ability to take risks, blaze new trails, and have people follow him or her down those trails. Leaders can be praised when they succeed, but will be criticized roundly when they don’t.

How can Product Management and Product Marketing leaders ground the Flying Monkeys? It all starts with actively engaging throughout the organization and providing valuable content that controls the flying monkeys.

I’d be interested in hearing how you control the flying monkeys and other urgent, interrupt driven events. Please comment below and feel free to share online.

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