The Executive Assistant

A Product Manager who only documents what the stakeholders have asked for, but denies access to the stakeholders, such that requirements cannot be negotiated.

Problem

A key component of being a Product Manager is collecting feature requests from stakeholders, and codifying these requirements into a holistic product vision. These stakeholders can have very strong personalities, as they tend to be higher up in the organization. As a result, they can force the Product Manager into a position of pure documentation, removing the Product Manager from the decision making process. With the belief that the will of the stakeholders is written in stone, the Executive Assistant Product Manager then simply hands the requirements to the development team, claiming that this is what has to be built, as this is what was asked for by the stakeholders.

The Executive Assistant Product Manager’s key issue is that they eliminate collaboration between the people defining the work, and the people doing the work. Claiming that they represent the immutable will of the stakeholders, they will appear exasperated at any questioning of the requirements, and will simply state that “This is what was asked for.” Unfortunately, this is a fallacy, as what is in the documentation is the Executive Assistants interpretation of what the stakeholders have asked for, rather than what the stakeholders may truly want if given the opportunity to directly collaborate with the development team.

To make matters worse, it is common for the Executive Assistant product manager to present the inverse situation to the stakeholders: that the development team does not wish to speak to them directly. Excuses can range from the developers being “Too technical” to communicate at a level the stakeholders would understand, or “Too busy” to engage in open-ended conversations about product direction.

Solution

The solution to an Executive Assistant product manager is to simply go around them, and call collaborative meetings between the stakeholders and the development teams. Indeed, this is a key tenant of Agile methodologies. At this point, they are documenting what is collaboratively decided, rather than their interpretation of what the stakeholders asked for. This may come as a relief, or as a slight, depending on how this change is interpreted by the Product Manager.


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