So you’re working as a remote product manager? Away from your engineering team? Worrying about how best to manage their tasks?
Fret not! You aren’t alone.
This is especially true today with an increasing number of young ventures preferring to hire an on-site product manager while housing their engineering operations in another country in the interest of cutting costs. While there are distinct merits to this strategy, as a product manager, there are a significant number of challenges too.
How would one manage communication? How would one convey the details of the features to be developed? Would we truly be agile? How does one foster an a collaborative and accountable culture?
Well, with a few years of experience as a remote product manager, here’s my take on how you can get the best out of your product and engineering teams while working remotely.
1. Define your Process
This is the single most important aspect that you must address while working as a remote product manager. Doing so would require you to first address the following:
What is your product roadmap? How intense is this roadmap?
Do you have the requisite resources to meet the timeline?
Do you intend to follow scrum/kanban or a completely different concoction of agile principles?
How often do you plan to interact with the engineering team? Do you have a ‘daily stand-up’?
If so, what are the key questions you address?
How do you ensure that you can build a rapport with each team member?
How do you manage business stakeholders?
… and the list goes on …
While defining your process is clearly essential, one must also focus on continuous refinement to improve performance. An ability to roll with the punches is an absolute necessity.
2. Set Expectations – Key Stakeholders
A successful remote product manager requires a number of factors to work in tandem. Of the ones that may be influenced directly, perhaps the most important factor concerns the expectations of your business stakeholders. In this regard, one needs to ensure complete transparency.
Need more resources? Ask for them!
Unreasonable demands? Say it (and substantiate it)!
Openly sharing your opinion regarding each of these challenges, while constantly updating the team regarding your progress, would save you from a world of pain in the days to come.
3. Set Expectations – Engineering
As a product manager, the engineering and design teams serve as the means of realizing the company’s vision. Therefore, creating an excellent rapport with them while communicating your objectives is essential. Managing these teams while working remotely certainly makes this arduous. However, in my experience, the following five steps are extremely effective in overcoming these challenges:
- Discuss the team set-up and priorities – Openly discuss your perception of the engineering/design unit’s role within the larger organization, diving into as much detail as possible. Discuss and assign specific roles to each team member, together with their primary responsibilities and expected objectives. Remember – a focused bullet-point list of expectations and targets is always better than a generic, long-winded one!
- Face-time is valuable – Try and convert your meetings into calls, and calls into video calls if possible. Doing so not only keeps the team more efficient, but also serves as an excellent avenue to help you build trust.
- Make yourself available – Ensure that you reply quickly to any queries. Value your team’s time, and do not make them wait! This is another great way that would enable you to develop a strong bond with your team and build trust, no matter how distributed the operation.
- Evaluate performance – Develop a detailed 360-degree-feedback framework to share your views regarding each team members performance at the end of each release cycle. This not only allows your team to improve its efficiency, but it also serves as a great source of feedback regarding your own performance, thereby ensuring that you have reason to continue improving.
- Meet the team – While this is certainly not possible in every case, try and meet your team members face-to-face!
4. Get a Kickass Product Management Tool
If you haven’t already, invest in a mature suite of tools to assist you with product management. Be it as detailed (think complex) as JIRA or as simple as Trello, your choice does not matter so long as you can share feature information and exchange opinions with your team members in an efficient and structured manner.
Besides promoting collaboration, the need for such a tool is absolutely critical since it also serves as a means of holding every team member accountable for their work.
Gradually adopting these four practices provides remote product experts with a structure that enables the development of an excellent product mindset and culture. It is, therefore, an essential step on your way to becoming a successful (remote) product manager!