Dear Product Manager, here's a tip for getting buy-in for your product design proposal

Ope Adeoye 6 minute read

Here's a story from my life as an overzealous Product Manager.

Once upon a time, we had an idea for a product extension. This extension required for a number of internal systems and products to be integrated and some adjustments to some operational processes. I met with all the different teams, gathered as much information as I thought was possible, met with a few customers to sound them off on the proposed solution, then went home and thought and thought... and thought. About the best way to glue it all together. After a while I had what I thought was a good plan. Mocked up the UX, put together what I presumed was an optimal architecture, an operations plan and a rough go-to-market approach.

I was proud of myself.


Following week, I gathered everyone together and tried to talk them through "how it would work". To my surprise, people who hadn't gathered as much information as I had kept pulling back and arguing about various aspects. I was visibly annoyed. "Hell! You, Mr Developer genius, you don't even know that this is how the marketing guys want XYZ to be. I've been to them so listen to me!"

This scenario, I presume is a common headache PMs face. Especially, when they are the hands-on type who like to be well rounded versus just forming "coordinator". 

Here's a possible way to deal with this thing

Step 1: Socialize the idea.

Yeah. Move from desk to desk telling each potential contributor that there's this thing being considered and you'd like to get their opinion. Give them some sense of importance. Don't make it seem like it's been concluded already, but rather something that's still in idea stage. If you could chip in like it was someone else's idea and not yours, that'd be very helpful. Depending on the culture of your workplace, you may want to position it as the big bosses' idea, a colleague's idea or an important customer's request. For instance, in many banks, big bosses' ideas (no matter how ridiculous) carry weight.

Step 2: Organise a brainstorming session.

Ask the people you are speaking with if they wouldn't mind attending a small brainstorming session to flesh out the idea with you. Promise item 7. Of course, I know meetings are mostly a waste of time, but hey! I'd have loved to own a Ferrari by 30, that didn't quite work out now, did it? So, bottom line; get everyone you have spoken with to join in a session where you plan to define how the product will work. Together. The thing is ehn... You already know how the product *should* work (hopefully) and you are just running a carry-along-routine. 

Step 3: Let the group come up with the product design.

See, if you have done a thorough job, no one really would have a complete view of all aspects of the problem (and solution) as you do at this point. You gathered facts from all the disconnected folks and synthesized the various positions, right? So ideally, you should be in a good position to truly glue things together. Just that life doesn't work that way. So, in this brainstorming session, put the facts and various points of view + knowledge you have gathered on the table and let other people chew on options and come up with the final design.

You'd be surprised that you might even find insights you missed. Please be open. One thing you can do to make sure that your colleagues do not derail your proposed product direction with their own half information (hopefully you did your homework well oh) is to nudge the meeting subtly down the path you have determined so that everybody comes close to the same conclusion and agree with your original design. This one, is a very special skill you have to develop. What you have essentially done, is make your design become a group decision. Don't forget though, be open to anything you might have missed. 

Step 4: Document it. Drive it.

When everyone has agreed to a product design, it would usually just be something on a whiteboard or mostly verbal conversations. Everyone likes someone else to be the secretary. So, Dear Product Manager, be the secretary. Take the notes, put everything back together in whatever form your company uses. Then follow through on the execution, like hell. This gives you one last chance to change the design back to yours in case the final agreed plan was not the original and you truly are convinced everyone is wrong and you are right. *evil laugh*.

There you have it. My tongue in cheek plan for forcing your own product design down everyone else's throat. Use it wisely. Remember, a super hero was once told... "With great power comes great responsibility".