How To Be A Good Product Manager

Tips on product management and product marketing for product managers. By Jeff Lash

Learn how to escalate issues

Posted on May 9, 2007 by Jeff Lash · 5 Comments

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If you want to be a bad product manager, don’t escalate any issues to your boss. You don’t want to show that you’re incapable of doing your job, so don’t ask for help unless you really need it. If you do need help, make sure your boss knows all of the ins and outs of the problem, including the whole backstory, and don’t specifically ask for help — just communicate the story and see what he/she says. You don’t want to actually “ask,” you want to just explain what’s going on and see what the response is.

If you want to be a good product manager, escalate issues appropriately. While there are many decisions for which you as a product manager are responsible and accountable, there will always be some issues that require escalation. Part of managing your relationship with your boss and managing issues and risks is knowing when and how to escalate issues. Escalating too many issues is just as bad as not escalating any. Escalate too frequently, and it will appear as though you are not competent in your job. Escalate too rarely, and others may have to help clean up problems that could have been avoided had they been informed of them earlier.

First, understand when issues should be escalated. This may be easiest done with an honest conversation with your boss to understand what types of issues he/she expects you to manage on your own, and what types of issues he/she expects you to discuss or escalate. Different managers have different approaches and want different levels of involvement.

You can also ask yourself if you have the knowledge to make the decision or accomplish the task, and if your boss has more knowledge in this area, whether that additional knowledge would change the outcome. Alternatively, you can ask yourself whether you have truly reached a point where you can do nothing more — have you tried everything you can possible think of and you still are not able to resolve the issue?

If other stakeholders need to be consulted, think about whether traditionally you have involved them directly or whether you have gone through others. Are they your peers or are they at a much more senior level?

Once you have identified whether the issue needs to be escalated, you need to clearly and concisely explain the issue and your expectations. Provide enough context without delving into unnecessary detail. Make sure to highlight the different possible solutions and the benefits / detriments of each. Outline any known implications on customers, sales, operations, cost, or any other aspects of the product or the business. Provide any relevant competitive information that may aid in resolving the issue.

Last, and most importantly, clearly state what you are looking for your boss to do. Do you need a yes/no answer? Does he/she need to discuss the issue with someone else? Is there a specific action that you need your boss to take? Is there a specific date by which you need an answer or resolution? Or, are you escalating just so your boss is aware of potential future issues? It may sound basic, but if you are providing your boss with information, you need to make it clear why.

Raising issues to your boss can help you be a more productive and successful product manager, provided you know when and why to raise issues, how to raise them, and what you are looking for your boss to do in response.

Translations available:

How To Be A Good Product Manager features tips on product management and product marketing, written by Jeff Lash (@jefflash on Twitter), Service Director, Product Management at SiriusDecisions.

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5 responses so far ↓

  • Derek Morrison // May 9, 2007 at 7:29 am

    Interesting thoughts – getting the balance could be critical. I actually asked my boss and other stakeholders what they expected of me and then jotted down what I expected of them and then sort to settle any differences.

    I think it as much about understanding your boss and how they think to achieve the balance.

  • Steve Johnson // May 9, 2007 at 7:49 am

    One of my favorite lines is “Keep your boss’s boss off your boss’s back.” It’s sometimes helpful to remember that a product manager is the representative of the senior team, not on the senior team. When trouble arises, report up.

  • shaymaa // May 31, 2010 at 1:21 pm

    keep your boss in touch with details is good strategy . however, how and when you can report task , are nesseccary too.

    keep your relationships with your peer clean , and diminish talking with sarrounding people

  • Ramesh Yerramsetti // Dec 6, 2011 at 4:39 pm

    Help make the boss’s life easier – boss has to deal with multiple projects and programs. In addition has to deal with people issues and interorganizational dynamics. So providing a clear description of problem, resolution suggested and an risks will make them shine. They will hear from others if not from you – better you carry the mesage first

  • Merri // Jul 30, 2014 at 1:04 pm

    This is a good advice but I noticed the first line of your first paragraph, you are saying it wrong. It is contradicting the positive advice of this post. It should be:
    If you don’t want to be a bad product manager, don’t escalate any issues to your boss.
    (instead of) If you want to be a bad product manager, don’t escalate any issues to your boss.

    The word “don’t” should be added before want.

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