Product Manager Seeking to Involve Internal Customers?

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jtpedersen_product manager_internal inputProduct managers have a challenging role.  They are the keeper of the dream for the product(s) they’re charged with giving direction to.  They distill input from a range of sources; delve into research and marketing studies; look at competitors’ offerings; and, craft the dream, the strategy, for everyone to follow.

One of the most challenging groups to effectively capture input from, is the product manager’s own internal teams.  This can include Sales, Development, Services, Product Support, Marketing, Executive Leadership, Operations, to name a few.

Successfully capturing input from these varied groups is both a process and leadership issue.

From a process perspective, capturing input needs to go beyond email and two or three annual conference calls.  Capturing feedback must be an ongoing process.  Product managers cannot have one-time meetings and expect input-on-demand. Yes, they’ll get some, but they’ll miss even more. It is important to solicit, and be open to, feedback on an ongoing basis.

And this is where leadership is important.  Doing this requires establishing a reputation with all the concerned stakeholders, being consistent, and avoiding being (even if only accidentally) dismissive when comments are given.

The process, the mechanisms used, need to support capturing feedback 7/24.  Not just when the product manager happens to be in his or her office. There are a number of tools that can support this.

Email is certainly one medium. However I like transparent inputs. Tools like SharePoint, wikis, micro blogs like Yammer, all provide the means for anytime-input and open discussion. Some, like Yammer, have grown in sophistication helping to manage the process—specifically for internal use. (Think of Yammer as Twitter for private, corporate use.)

Blogs are another means of soliciting input. I believe more product managers should consider use of blogs, internal and/or externally facing. Blogs let the product’s leader discuss current thinking, demonstrate thought leadership, while providing a sense of direction.  Concerned parties will pay attention, whether they respond through the same medium or not.

The trick to capturing internal stakeholders input is to be Recurring, Relationship-based, and able to support discussion 7/24.

Image credit: Christian Ferrari