As head of product, should I be a player-manager, or hire and delegate?

As head of product, should I be a player-manager, or hire and delegate?

Here’s a question I was asked recently:

Hi Jock,

I’ve recently joined a new company as their first head of product. Historically the company hasn’t been ‘product-minded’.

There’s plenty that needs doing with the products. I could focus on the hiring process, but the only product manager on my team has their hands full, so I can’t delegate any more to them. I could get stuck in with the products myself as a player-manager, but this means I won’t have time to hire.

What’s the right balance?



It’s a tricky question, and there are merits to each approach. My suggestion would be to consider what activities are most valuable to your organisation right now.

As an experienced product person and head of product, you can manage products directly (and do it well), but it makes better sense for other, less expensive product managers to handle this.

The other consideration is that it is your responsibility to build a product team and culture at your organisation.

Given that the company is new to product management, you have the opportunity to give them a first impression that highlights good practice, such as frequent user research, hypothesis-driven experimentation and validation, working in the open and showing what you’ve done and learned over talking about what you might do in the future.

In other words, step back from all the things you’re being asked to jump on, and think about how you can start changing ingrained working patterns to be more product-minded through your good example.

The product manager(s) you hire are less likely to have that particular skill set yet. It makes more sense for you to focus on the tasks only you can do, and leave the more generic ones to other members of your team.

The last point is that every bit of responsibility for a product that you can delegate to a more junior product person (with appropriate support) is an opportunity for them to gain experience and develop professionally – ultimately increasing their value back to the organisation.

I fully appreciate that this will never be clear-cut, as it’s perfectly reasonable to roll your sleeves up and help out more directly with your team’s products when necessary, particularly as you’re working through the hiring process. Just be careful not to spread yourself too thinly, and to be mindful when deciding where you invest your time and attention. Rich Mironov has a great article on this topic.

I hope that helps you to find the right balance for you.



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The Practitioner's Guide to Product Management book cover

The Practitioner's Guide To Product Management

by Jock Busuttil

“This is a great book for Product Managers or those considering a career in Product Management.”

— Lyndsay Denton

Jock Busuttil is a freelance head of product, product management coach and author. He has spent over two decades working with technology companies to improve their product management practices, from startups to multinationals. In 2012 Jock founded Product People Limited, which provides product management consultancy, coaching and training. Its clients include BBC, University of Cambridge, Ometria, Prolific and the UK’s Ministry of Justice and Government Digital Service (GDS). Jock holds a master’s degree in Classics from the University of Cambridge. He is the author of the popular book The Practitioner’s Guide To Product Management, which was published in January 2015 by Grand Central Publishing in the US and Piatkus in the UK. He writes the blog I Manage Products and weekly product management newsletter PRODUCTHEAD. You can find him on Mastodon, Twitter and LinkedIn.

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