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Product Management Accountability

Ryan Frederick | December 16th, 2021

If we are going to hold product managers responsible for a product’s successful outcome, shouldn’t part of their compensation be tied to some part of a product’s upside and contribution to a company? Ah, but of course then product managers would have to feel the pain of a product not producing the desired outcomes, so how does a lack of success get acknowledged tangibly?

I’m asking all the above questions because there still seems to be a disconnect between a product’s success or failure and accountability from product managers and product teams overall.

This creates the larger question, that I have yet to see great answers to…how do we best measure and hold product managers and teams accountable to outcomes knowing that product managers and teams don’t have total control over a product’s success or failure? Every other discipline in a company plays a role in making a product successful or not. Marketing, sales, legal, and support all play key roles. So, if product managers and product teams aren’t fully responsible, but are mostly responsible how to best hold them accountable?

If we believe that product managers should be outcome-focused, then we must be able to define, track, measure, and hold them accountable to the outcomes, right? Or is this outcome talk mostly just posturing and isn’t all that serious? It sounds good to focus on outcomes over outputs, but does accountability get ignored or lost because of the outcome focus? In many ways, it is easier to hold people accountable for outputs. Outputs are easily tracked and managed. An output happens when it should and how it should, so it’s a win. Outcomes take time to track and assess. Given outcome results are rarely immediate and often open for interpretation how do we truly hold product managers accountable for outcomes? What we are really saying is that if product managers are focused on outcomes over outputs that we’re stopping there? Is the value of the outcome over output focus enough to feel good about a product manager’s contribution and success respective of whether the product and business outcomes are achieved at some point?

This post is mostly a series of questions because I don’t have the answers. I would love feedback and for people to share some examples of how they are measuring and holding product managers and teams accountable for outcomes. I mean, really holding them accountable with both positive and negative ramifications. As it seems even though the narrative has shifted from outputs to outcomes not much from accountability or consequences perspectives have changed. Product managers and teams whose products achieve the desired outcomes or not don’t seem to operate differently irrespective of outcomes. They just keep trucking and move on to the next piece of work or product.

Have we become so enamored with product as a new craft that we’ve ignored accountability and consequences until it becomes more mature? If that is the case, maybe it is okay for a while? Maybe we don’t understand how to connect outcomes back to product management and teams yet?

Who is doing it well? If you have some examples of product outcome accountability being done well, please share.