This document describes important leadership concepts specific to the product management team. See also our page on general GitLab leadership guidance.
As a product team leader, it's important to set the tone for the organization. We put our PMs individually in the forefront as Directly Responsible Individuals (DRI), with the trust and power that they can make the right decisions with our support as product leaders. This section is intended to outline some best practices for working between PMs and their directors. It contains guidance on responsibilities and expectations the director should have in working with PMs, but is not intended to be hard and fast rules that take the place of having a strong working relationship and prioritizing things effectively together.
Note that this is intended as a supplement to the product director job description, with specific focus on the interaction between PMs and their directors. General director responsibilities can be found at that link.
An effective product director should:
Respect that multiple voices influencing the group will be confusing to the execution team, and avoid coming out of left field with changing priorities. The PM owns the day-to-day interaction with their group and the director should influence through the directly responsible PM.
Work through your PMs as your path to success, rather than focusing on individual achievement. We have a culture of empowering individual PMs, not centralizing authority, and need to continue to reinforce that as we grow.
Help your PMs understand who important internal and external customers are for them, ensuring that there's a productive ongoing dialogue with feedback coming in and then features being adopted internally. Internal customers should have at least a monthly check-in, with the internal customer section in the category epic kept up to date.
Represent their portfolio in day-to-day interaction with D and E groups, with particular responsibility to prioritize inputs from leadership into something stable in the short/medium term and actionable by the PMs, to align efforts across teams, and to raise visibility of wins by the PM to the broader team by being a "cheerleader" for the successes of their reports to the senior leadership group. This also includes publishing portfolio-level directional items that the rest of the company can use (and which should be reviewed and understood by the DRI PMs who will deliver this portfolio-level vision.)
Support and hold PMs accountable for updates to the next release, 3 month vision, OKRs, etc. For teams using web category vision epics, this can be done in a very nice monthly update flow aligned to the releases and done via discussion in a comprehensive MR. Whatever the process, though, the director should be holding the PM accountable by providing support and guidance here, particularly when it comes to making sure organizational priorities are clear. Make sure upcoming portfolio-level milestones, due dates around releases, special projects with calendar impacts, etc. are visible and always clearly communicated.
Actively coach your PMs, sensing where they can grow and do better. This coaching should be provided consistently, clearly, and in an actionable way, with the intent of avoiding "surprise problems". In the same vein, following up on requests for context, advice, and so on from the PMs is a priority. The socratic method is recommended as a great approach that works particularly well with PMs.
Prioritize hiring, being sure to include PMs (and EMs/team members) who will work with the new person in the process.
Provide structure and motivation for needed organizational changes (being more data-driven, telling stories, providing time for expansive thinking).