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Most modern product leaders want more autonomy and a lower center of organization gravity when it comes to decision making, resource allocation, prioritization and other key decisions. We celebrate the idea that the Product leader is the CEO of the product, which implies making the fundamental P&L decisions around the business unit.

To make that vision a reality, we have to build a high trust culture with our peers and other stakeholders. It’s counterproductive to take the Eric Cartman approach and demand that everyone else “respect my authority!”

The key to growing our domain of control and freedom to operate comes in creating trust from the other executives inside the organization. As a general rule, the more trust the executive suite has in the product team, the less they want to micro-manage the decisions. 

But, executives are usually busy, sometimes with a low attention span, and rarely would consider themselves agilists. Communicating with them can be a frustrating experience, leaving a product leader feeling like “they just don’t get it” and reverting to the idea that “they just need to leave us alone so we can do our job.”

With that in mind, these are three ideas to build the trust that’s necessary to increase autonomy:

Don’t make them think

Executives are rarely interested in the internal processes and ceremonies of an agile development process. They want satisfying and well thought out answers to key questions like:

  • “What are we prioritizing working on?” 
  • “When is it going to be ready (and what are the associated risk factors?” 
  • “How much is all of this costing? (and how can we do more with less?) 

Be ready to answer those whether it’s a formal meeting or you run into them in the cafeteria.

Speak their language

Executives who aren’t agilists may struggle with the duality of points as a metric for both effort and risk. They may not have a foundational understanding to comprehend a modern software development process. More than likely, they are more comfortable with a finance-centric view of business processes, and are usually going to be thinking about those processes in dollars and cents.

Overcommunicate the risks

Executives are used to dealing with risk, it’s a concept that exists across the entire enterprise. The sooner the bad news can be surfaced and communicated, the greater the opportunity to work together and problem solve.

Taken together, these habits can help a product leader build more trust with the executive suite, to earn greater autonomy and freedom to operate. Learn more about how to do this easily at the upcoming Webinar with Product Collective, or visit us at the Industry Global Conference in Cleveland this October!

Bill Holman

Vice President, Product

Bill is an experienced product leader with over 20 years in the software industry. He has led product organizations at companies such as the University of Phoenix, Skiplist, and Dealer Tire, as well as Progressive Insurance, National City Bank, and Molecular. Bill is also a guest lecturer at Kent State’s School of Information Architecture and Knowledge Management and he co-founded the Northeast Ohio chapter of the Usability Professionals Association.