Managing up is the art of creating a strong relationship with your manager.
This is an underrated system for growth as a product manager.
Investing in this relationship is an excellent use of time as it unlocks:
A career coach and mentor: your manager has likely been in your shoes and can help you plan long-term in your career.
Connect to opportunities: your manager often has better visibility into the workings of the organization. If they trust you, they will nominate you to take on important projects or to step up and lead larger teams.
A life-long evangelist: even outside of your current company, having a senior person in your field who trusts and respects you will create long-term opportunities.
More enjoyable work environment: being a PM can be lonely. A manager can be your trusted confidant and sounding board if you invest time into the relationship.
The foundation of managing up is your regular one-on-one with your manager. I want to share the template I use for running these meetings with my manager.
This template was simplified and refined over 3 years and 6 managers. It helps me:
Be more effective in my role
Carve out time to discuss my career growth
Bring visibility to work I’m doing
Give it a try:
Let’s break down the components.
10 minutes of updates
In a 30-minute meeting, I like to spend ~10 minutes walking my manager through the items I’m working on. There are a few reasons to do this:
Get light feedback on items that I have a good handle on
Bring visibility to the work you’re doing and make it top of mind
Raise blockers to help your team move forward
I’ve included some example agenda topics in the template:
Kicked off Project ABC working with squad 1 and squad 2. This maps to my annual OKR 2 and if we can execute, should unlock N new users.
Aligned with Kate on the priority on work-stream A. She will prioritize this in the next three sprints.
Kicked off OKR planning for next quarter. I’m concerned that OKR 1 is not achievable given the current resources.
What’s the best forum to raise this concern in?
20 minutes of discussion
The more nuanced part of my agenda is the ~20 minutes of discussion topics. These are topics to dive into with your manager.
There are three types of discussion topics:
Your manager has likely been in your shoes. If you’re struggling with an element of the role, team dynamics or navigating the company, seek your manager’s feedback.
It’s essential to frame your feedback ask in a way that will create the most useful outcomes. So rather than asking:
Do you have advice on topic X?
I like to frame it as:
Do you have advice for solving Problem Z? In Situation Y, I’m noticing that Problem Z keeps occurring. I’ve tried to debug this by doing Action A but it hasn’t solved the problem.
This framing shows that you understand the core problem and have proactively taken actions to try and solve it. If you haven’t yet tried to solve it yourself, do that before seeking advice.
Examples of advice topics:
My relationship with the customer success team isn’t as strong as I’d like. I feel like this is because I have to constantly turn down their suggestions on what to build and when.
How can I say no without harming relationships? So far, I’ve tried to explain our resource constraints and other priorities, but neither seems to be landing.
2/ Career planning
One-on-ones with your manager can often be very tactical. It’s important to make time with your manager to discuss your long-term career path.
For you, this is extremely valuable. It allows you to zoom out from OKRs and annual goals to reflect on the skills you want to accumulate, the experiences you want to have and the relationships you want to build.
For your manager, it helps them understand what you want and what it will take to keep you motivated in your role.
Great managers will use this information to connect you with opportunities to grow your career. Selfishly, this helps them retain good PMs and gives you a chance to have more impact in your role.
Examples of career planning topics:
One of my career goals is to become a manager by the end of the year. I spoke with two people managers this week (Jack and Melanie) to get their feedback on the right managerial skills to build and how to build them.
Based on these conversations, here is my plan [link] to learn these skills in the next 6 months.
Are there items missing?
Do you have other suggestions for how I might learn these skills?
Finally, one-on-ones are a great place to review strategic directions for your product area.
Examples of strategy topics:
I think we need to more aggressively target Customer Segment Z. There is a $10B opportunity if we can capture 10% of this market in the next 4 years.
Are you aligned with this framework for evaluating the investment decision?
Who else should I run this decision by?
Putting this into practice
With a template in hand, make sure to do the following three things to deploy it correctly:
Share the doc with your manager so they have visibility on upcoming and past conversations
Add your topics at least 24 hours before your one-on-one. This makes sure that A) your manager has time to read it if they like, B) it’s ready for your one-on-one
Bonus: send your manager a message with the agenda and ask them to drop any comments or add any topics they’d like to the agenda
If there are no topics, cancel the meeting to save time
Stick to the agenda and capture notes live.
In summary, use your one-on-ones with your manager to build a strong relationship.
You can do this by creating visibility on your work, seeking their input and discussing your long-term career objectives.
Community Advice on Managing Up
I asked Twitter what advice they have on managing up. There was some great advice:
From Adam, Director of Product at Microsoft:
From Graham, Product Partner at Connect Ventures:
🚨 Featured job opportunities
🤝 Paxos: Product Manager - Brokerage Transfers(New York City, US Remote)
🏄 Fractal Founders: Founder (New York City, San Francisco)
If you’re looking for your next play, apply to be a part of my Talent Collective.
If your team is hiring, reply to this email or reach out.
If you’re new to Product Life, join 9,700+ product managers growing their careers:
Until next time,