Strategies to Help PMs get Executive Buy-in — Event by Advancing Women in Product (AWIP)

Credits: AWIP Team, Thuria Narayan (AWIP Program Lead for October), Hanh Bui (AWIP Program Lead for December and who co-wrote this article with me), Carol Wong (AWIP Partnerships Lead)

As Product Managers and other tech professionals grow in their careers, executive buy-in becomes key to growing your career. Projects, deadlines, and especially budding new stealth product lines all require executives as an organization to help sponsor and later, foster the product’s growth.

On Wednesday, October 17th, Advancing Women in Product (AWIP), brought together a panel of senior Product Managers at Plaid: Scott Zuccarino (Manager of Product Management, Thumbtack), and Meryam Bukhari (Product Manager, Yelp), Kate Adamson (Product Manager, Plaid), with Clement Kao (Product Manager, Blend) as the panel moderator. The following highlights the key points that were made:

Panelists in action, describing their top strategies for getting executive buy-in as lead PMs

Why is getting executive buy-in important?

Executive buy-in is when executives will put their support and collateral behind your idea. While the definition of the exact “buy-in” might differ in organizations large or small, the concept of its importance does not change: in order to drive initiatives or new product ideas forward, we not only need the support of our peers and cross-functional teams, but we also support from our leaders. I remember when I was trying to deliver a product on a short timeline while at Google, and having our senior director of engineering on my side, as well as our head of product, made the process so much more seamless. Cross-functional teams were more willing to chip in, and their support made the roadblocks we had in front of us much more achievable.

How do you start with getting executive buy-in? Which stakeholders do you gather data from, and what types of information will you gather?

The consensus among the panel was that taking the first step is often the hardest step. But often, the hardest problem can seem achievable if we break it down into feasible steps: start out by experimenting with 1 thing, which then leads us to move on and actually solve the entire problem.

As far as stakeholders, really understand the context of the product or problem that you’re trying to drive forward, and see where most of the roadblocks are appearing. Is the initial capex too great for this project? Or does engineering need to be convinced that the implementation approach and timeline is the right one to take. Bottom line: understand the parties/teams that need convincing, and start making strides towards getting folks on your side. This is where executive buy-in will really help, to clear the roadblocks to get to the consensus that you want.

What is one of the most important components of getting executive buy-in?

Throughout all of the panelists’ experience in getting executive buy-in, empathy was a common thread that everyone could speak to. Before talking to the executives, try to understand where the executive is coming from, what sort of pain they’re trying to avoid, their fears, and the problems that they’re trying to tackle.

Panelists share their personal tactics:

  1. Before you present to a group of executives, have a group or board of business partners or users to validate, challenge and give feedback to your idea. This will help you avoid any surprises in the process and also help you anticipate the questions executives may ask you.
  2. Be careful of implicit bias towards ideas brought forth by executives themselves; remember that they are people too, and their ideas will also need to go through the same level of rigor and validation as any one’s ideas. With that said, they may have additional context around these ideas.
  3. When an executive says no to your idea, keep doing/testing it on the side unless it’s immoral or against the team morale. Persistence is key.
  4. You’ve heard startups say this: fail and fail fast. It’s better to fail when you have less at stake than get rejected when you have a lot more riding on your idea. All of the above suggestions on practice and validation will help you hopefully avoid getting to this stage.

We hope you enjoyed this event as much as we our live attendees did, who provided us with the following feedback:

“I like the event as it talked about one of the fundamental thing at work, thing that people easily forget to mention but play a super power in the job of PM. Most of the events I attended focused on hard skills. This is a rare one that deep dives in soft skills. We need more of it in the future.”

“The event gave me a time to self reflect my experience to deal with executives and how I could do it better.”

“Some of the questions were very interesting, I can totally relate.”

To watch the full panel discussion and live example of an executive buy-in conversation that the panelists did, you can watch the full video here and may others on the AWIP YouTube channel.

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