Lead Product Manager Handbook
Lead Product Managers (sometimes referred to as Group Product Managers in other organizations) are the next step to Senior Product Managers.
Lead Product Managers (Lead PM for short) retain some execution-level work (i.e., managing a product), but it’s only one part of their duties. The main differences with Product Managers are people leadership, recruitment, chapter initiatives, and supporting the sales team.
Lead Product Managers continue to manage products with the same responsibilities as their Product Manager peers. They mainly work on smaller projects (squads of 4—6 members) given their need for time to address their other work areas.
Given their expertise and seniority level, Lead PMs can sometimes be called upon by their more junior team members to help solve complex product problems and situations.
The team knows that not everything goes according to plan or follows the processes perfectly. It is the reason why there is a guideline for project deviations.
Each Product Manager is responsible for tending to their projects’ deviations. However, there can be cases where an escalation is needed.
When a Product Manager escalates a deviation, it is their Lead Product Manager’s responsibility to handle it. The Lead Product Manager should work with the Product Manager who raised the deviation and with the client to sort out the issue. Only if they hit a roadblock should they escalate the deviation to the CPO.
The Lead Product Manager also needs to monitor the deviations raised by their reports and ensure that they are dealt with appropriately.
The Product Chapter, and Nimble as a whole, has established many guidelines and conventions of which Compass is the embodiment. Lead Product Managers must ensure that their reports follow the established guidelines and conventions as much as possible.
Unlike Product Managers, Lead Product Managers have direct reports (usually 2—3 reports). Lead Product Managers are responsible for their reports’ performance and professional growth.
Consequently, the Lead PM also needs to monitor their reports’ products to ensure that the development progresses smoothly.
Guiding & Monitoring
Monitoring the product development progress for their reports’ projects is integral to the Lead PM’s role. Suppose a Product Manager struggles in an area of their work. In that case, the Lead Product Manager needs to assess and provide the necessary guidance, whether a technical aspect, a process, a stakeholder to manage, etc.
The Lead PMs must also ensure that the product(s) managed by their reports are built following the internal processes and aligned with client’s requirements.
While monitoring is an active process, Lead Product Managers are open and available for their reports who might need guidance on a specific aspect of a project or personal development.
Nurturing Product Managers
It is part of the Lead Product Manager’s duty to help their reports progress as professionals. There are two primary mechanisms that the team uses to support Product Managers in their career growth:
- Regular 1-on-1 sessions.
- Biannual 360 reviews.
The 1-on-1 sessions are a bi-monthly opportunity for Lead Product Managers to catch up with their reports. It is an excellent time to establish a relationship, deliver regular feedback on the Product Managers’ work, and provide guidance.
360 reviews are more thorough feedback sessions that the company organizes twice a year. It takes a lot of preparation from a few different people. The starting point is a company-wide feedback process where all teammates who worked together provide feedback about one another.
Lead Product Managers then have to review all the feedback shared about their reports, analyze it, sprinkle their own feedback, and create growth objectives.
Then the Lead Product Managers will need to schedule a 1-on-1 feedback session with their reports where they will see what went well, what could be better, and the objectives for the next period.
Monitoring Daily Standup
The entire team participates in an asynchronous daily standup where they outline their work for the day and list any challenges they might be facing.
It is the Lead Product Manager’s responsibility to monitor their reports’ daily standups to ensure that:
- They are on the right track with their work.
- They get the support that they need with any potential challenge or blocker.
Keeping current on all of their reports’ progress can be a daunting task for Lead PMs if not done in an organized manner.
Twice a month, all Product Managers are asked to provide a project update following an internal template. The Lead Product Manager must review all project updates from their reports and take any action necessary should it be prompted by the Product Managers’ feedback.
Should there be any blockers, the Lead Product Manager must ensure that the Product Manager timely and adequately communicates them to the client.
At last, the Lead Product Manager needs to help their reports remove the blockers by providing support and advice.
Although the entire Product Chapter can (and is encouraged to) participate in the chapter initiatives, Lead Product Managers take a more active role. They formulate new ideas (and help their fellow Product Managers do so when needed), participate in the planning, work on delivering initiatives, and monitor the progress of all endeavors.
As people managers, Lead Product Managers are involved in building the team by participating in the recruitment efforts. They typically conduct interviews with Product Manager candidates and review the Product Challenge submissions for their candidates.
Lead Product Managers put their product and technical expertise at the sales team’s service. They provide help in assessing new product ideas and requests from prospective clients. It is a type of work that requires extensive experience as, in this context, the Lead Product Managers work can be the foundation for business proposals.
Reporting to Management
Finally, there is a crucial link between Lead Product Managers and the CPO. Lead PMs provide insights and report concerns to the CPO to help keep all company projects in sync and proactively escalate potential or actual risks.