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Making Sense of the Product Manager’s Lonely Walk

It’s lonely out there.  Especially for those of us in the trade whose job it is to keep a project on track and prevent scope creep.  Markets are full of New Cokes and Bradley Fighting Vehicles.  It’s easy to spot products that were once well defined and tightly scoped at inception only to be released as mishmashes and new formulas constituting things no ones wants to buy.

Alicia Dixon will be traveling from the lone star state to bring some perspective and share how product managers can succeed in the lonely walk of holding distractive elements at bay and knowing when to exercise restraint.

Alicia has been a product manager since 2007, and is now pursuing her lonely career path in Texas.  She used to be the product manager for mobile applications for a UPS subsidiary and is now helping Hilton Worldwide keep focus.  If product managers truly are lonely, she found a kindred spirit in Kristin Bolton-Keys and will be tagging up with her to present, Survival Tips for the Lone Product Manager.

“No matter what the size of the organization is, you could have the experience of being the first product manager,” she informs me. “If that person is you, we’ll share how you can bring product management to an organization, how to explain to people what product management is, and how you don’t become a dumping ground for everything.”

Alicia, and her partner Kris, will share lessons learned and how to dodge some of the lumps and bumps they’ve experienced during their tenures as being the first or lone product guns in an organization.

As the product manger you have to communicate what the direction is.  “If you’re being asked”, Alicia advised, “‘what’s next’ 5 times a day.  That means you’re not over communicating the vision and you’re not being clear.”  In order to keep a product development team on track,  product managers have to be clear and direct when communicating the direction their teams should take.

Alicia Dixon Headshot edited

“No matter what the size of the organization is, you could have the experience of being the first product manager.”

Sophisticated companies may hire product managers when they feel their losing control over direction or believe too many features are creeping into a specifications sheet.  Unfortunately, even though a product manager may have been brought in to help steer a product development program in the right direction teams can be less enthusiastic.  “I’ve come into environments when products are already under development, and you’ll often get asked, ‘why are you here?’”, she says. “When that happens you need to show you bring value to the process.”  Product managers who are brought in to bring out-of-control products back in control should cautiously navigate the politics and process all projects have.  In wanting to deliver immediate value, it’s tempting to get down-and-dirty and heavily involved with the process.  “Get out of the weeds of the tactical decisions and help with the strategic vision.  You can bring in competitive research which no one has time to do.  Find out what people are saying about your company’s products.  But be careful,” she advised me matter-of-factly, “you don’t become the dumping ground for general reporting.  And, make sure you’re not delivering data, but providing real value.”

Often times during a product’s development, you’ll have people who want to get involved with a project and that can be disruptive. You’ll have to deal with these external forces, and Alicia has a strategy she’ll be sharing, “I take a different approach.  Before I hold the meeting, I’ll meet with that person individually and address their concerns one-on-one before the meeting.  And in the meeting, I’ll remind them what they agreed upon.  Above all else, make the product about your target users and not your coworkers.  Make points about data and not opinions to back up your actions.”


“Get out of the weeds of the tactical decisions and help with the strategic vision.”


Take heart, product managers. You’re not alone.  Alicia and Kris will be at the Arisphere next week to share some tips, lessons learned, and pain points they’ve experienced during their career.  So, register now, come to MVP, and feel that sense of relief knowing that it’s not all up to you.

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