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If you can't be replaced, you can't be promoted

"Common sense is the knack of seeing things as they are, and doing things as they ought to be done."—Henry Wheeler Shaw, American humorist.

Have you heard the saying that you can’t get promoted until you have someone ready to replace you? If you can't be replaced, you can't be promoted. Yet there will come a time when someone has to take over for you. When managing a product, or raising a child, caring for your parents, or taking sick leave. Are you ready?

My dad has a binder filled with active projects—things in progress like taxes and insurance forms and prescriptions. The binder also has a set of userids and passwords with a code like W3 or K6. He’s told me what these codes mean so I can log into his playbooks if necessary.

A product manager took a job recently and asked about her predecessor’s files. She was told, “Well, there’s a lot of stuff on sharepoint. You should look there.”

I did training once for a company where I’d worked years before. A product manager approached me and asked if I’d written the business plan. (I had.) They’ve been running against that plan for years with minor updates, passing it from product manager to product manager through multiple reorgs and acquisitions. (It was a good plan!)

What we need is a binder—a playbook—of the active projects and all the associated paperwork.

I’ve been working with teams to develop their own product playbooks. Where are the documented personas and the roadmaps? How do we do positioning here? Do we have a business plan or canvas? And where is all of this stored?

You need to come at the playbook from two directions.

As a product manager, seems like you should be able to leverage the work of your predecessors and also share your work with those who follow you. Why do we have to reinvent everything? You also may want to share your work with colleagues so they don’t have to start from zero. Are your product’s personas different than those for other company products? Can’t you at least start from work done by others?

As a team leader, you want your team to use a standard set of documented methods so you don’t have re-train everyone all the time. One team leader lamented that he spent half his time trying to understand the format of the documents he reviews. One product manager prefers Excel; another uses PowerPoint. He needs one standard product scorecard. (That team is now using my Under10 Planning Canvas as a basis for their product scorecard.)

Consistency is a wonderful thing.

Use the playbook concept to develop your product methods. New people learn the playbook—just like sports teams in school—and get up-to-speed much more quickly. Identify the right level of process needed in your organization. What are the steps to go from idea to market? What artifacts and documents are necessary and which can be omitted?

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