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Product manager prioritization: channel your inner PANDA!

Being a product manager can feel like being on safari. You’ve planned the route you want to take and you have your backpack full of tools ready—but changing environments and unpredictable creatures can derail your plans at any moment.

PX insights
Remote teams

Last updated

18 Aug 2022
Product Manager prioritization channel your inner PANDA

In a viral post, Dean Peters created a taxonomy of "all those wild animals that are stampeding your backlog with 'great ideas'" and blocking your ability to prioritize effectively. 

To tame dangerous animals, you have to understand them. 

This article shows you how to recognize the most troublesome animals that hinder effective product management, and how to develop a new approach—becoming a PANDA!—that will help you overcome bad habits for brilliant product prioritization.

Hotjar helps product managers beat bad habits and prioritize brilliantly

PM teams use Hotjar to make confident, data-informed decisions—and get even the most problematic stakeholders on board.

Animals that wreak havoc on product priorities

Here’s the good news: the most dangerous animals in product management can be managed. We’re not talking about permanent personality types here, but rather bad habits that are currently holding up the product development process or forcing you to focus resources on the wrong priorities. 

The first step is to identify them. Here’s the list:

HIPPO

HiPPO: Highest Paid Person’s Opinion

Executives can be a PM’s best friend or worst enemy. VPs and C-suite executives often bring valuable perspectives to the table. They remind you to stay in touch with the bigger picture and align your product plans with revenue, year-on-year profitability, and other business goals. 

But if influential stakeholders aren’t aligned with your product vision, they can end up pushing you in unhelpful directions. 

It’s easy to be influenced by the Highest Paid Person’s Opinion (HiPPO). But PMs need to do what’s right for the product rather than follow authoritative stakeholders who may or may not understand the product. 

Remember: product managers are responsible for achieving business goals, meeting user needs, and guiding the product team. You need to find a balance and push back if HiPPOs are directing you towards priorities that distract your team without creating customer delight. 

When in doubt, ask yourself: are you being driven by HiPPOS or your vision?

Those paid the most (HiPPOs) aren't always those with the most first-hand knowledge or on-the-job insights. These individuals may be great leaders and should know a lot about how to keep the team focused toward a common goal. However, there's an old adage about leaving the profession to the professionals.

Critical decisions must not be made on the requests of founders, VPs, and CEOs if they don't have a thorough understanding of how to execute data-informed product management. Instead, these leaders should empower those with the skills and experience to take charge and make those decisions independently.

Gregory Yong
Chief Experience Officer, Convincely
ZEBRA

ZEBRA: Zero Evidence But Really Arrogant

ZEBRAs make impulsive decisions based on gut instinct or intuition. They assume they know it all, and they’re too confident to challenge their assumptions or step back and rely on the data to guide their opinions. 

ZEBRAs can be business stakeholders (in the worst cases, you’ll find yourself confronted with a HiPPO-ZEBRA hybrid—scary!). But you can also find ZEBRAs on the product team. Even worse, you may turn into one, yourself, from time to time. 

ZEBRA behaviors are toxic to a continuous discovery culture that’s all about questioning, learning, and, ultimately, improving the product. 

Be wary of team members and cross-functional collaborators who shout loud without basing their opinion on data. And stay self-aware: recognizing when you’re engaging in ZEBRA habits as a PM is the first step to correcting course. 

ZEBRAs are especially common in small teams, where the same person may hold multiple roles in marketing, PR, and product management. 

If there’s no professional product management training in the department, some people see this as an opportunity to rise above the rest—even if they have no training themselves. Ultimately, they end up providing unverified, subjective input. 

Fortunately, ZEBRAs are pretty easy to spot. However, what’s difficult is standing up to them if they hold a significant position in your company.

Nick Drewe
RHINO

RHINO: Really Here In Name Only

RHINOs are team members who have checked out. They show up to work, do the bare minimum, and leave. They’re disconnected from the product’s aims and vision and don’t understand why what they’re working on is important. 

One demotivated employee can hinder the product workflow. But it’s worse than that: RHINOs can drag the whole product team down. 

Without an engaged team, you’ll struggle to meet product goals. Furthermore, you won’t be able to rely on your team as committed allies who go above and beyond to solve user problems and give you, as PM, the information you need to make day-to-day decisions. 

Keep an eye out for waning motivation on your team. The earlier you spot RHINOs, the easier it is to light a fire under your team so they reconnect with the purpose of their work.

If someone is demotivated you need to give them the motivation they are lacking to guide their actions. I once heard a story of President Kennedy visiting NASA and asking a janitor, “What are you doing here?” and the janitor replied, “I’m helping a man go to the Moon.” 

As a product manager, you need to make sure your team knows why they are doing what they are doing. As long as we know why we are doing what we are doing, and we consider the reason important, the rest of our work will be more meaningful.

Flavio Cabral da Silva
Head of Product, outboxup
WOLF

WOLF: Working On Latest Fire

The WOLF is great at responding to emergencies. They thrive on the adrenaline rush of putting out fires, but they often struggle to stay motivated or see the wider perspective when there are no urgent tasks. 

WOLF types are dangerous in product management. They’re easily distracted, with short attention spans, and tend to hop from one idea to the next. 

That’s the opposite of great product management. The best PMs don’t jump to respond to every request or idea; they take time to reflect on the priorities that will lead the product to maximize user and marketplace value. 

If you don’t address WOLF tendencies in yourself and on your team, you’ll end with a scrappy, disorganized product development process that can cost you your competitive advantage.

PANDA

Why you should channel your inner PANDA 

The PANDA PM Prioritizes Amazingly and Needs Data Always.

PANDAs are the best product managers because they prioritize strategically and take a data-informed approach—channeling your inner PANDA can help you tackle the most common product management challenges. 

Strategic prioritization is key to: 

  • Maximize resources by deploying them on tasks that add real value to the product

  • Ensure your product stays focused on solving user problems 

  • Effective backlog management

  • Keep the product team aligned on shared priorities

  • Build trust with stakeholders who can see that you’re creating real value for the company

Data-driven prioritization is only effective if teams make continuous improvements on existing processes and create new ones based on what they learn.

For data-driven product development to flourish, the leaders of the organization need to be committed to this approach.

Ryan Fyfe

Data-informed product management provides: 

  • Confidence you’re making the right decisions and not relying on guesswork

  • Clear, measurable metrics that let you know you’re on the right track 

  • Shared user and business data that keeps different team members aligned

  • The basis for cross-functional communication and buy-in from execs and other stakeholders

In order to make data-informed product decisions, a product manager needs to be able to do two things :

1. Figure out what the best evidence-based product decision is

2. Convince their coworkers and leaders to follow their advice

One of the biggest tips I teach to help product managers achieve both of those objectives is to share research goals and results frequently, at least every sprint, so that HiPPOs and other colleagues will regularly engage with the evidence.

Holly Hester-Reilly
Product Management Trainer, H2R Product Science

5 ways to use Hotjar to beat bad habits and become a PANDA 

1. Sharpen your user data to make better decisions

The best product managers use research for amazing prioritization, and Hotjar gives you the user data you need to prioritize brilliantly. 

Gather information on what’s important to your users by using Hotjar’s non-invasive survey tools—like Incoming Feedback widgets—to ask them direct questions.  

Use Heatmaps and Session Recordings to spot where users have issues and determine which bug fixes and product optimizations should be top of your list.  

When you’re guided by how your users are experiencing your product and what their needs are, you can stop your priorities from being hijacked by loud-mouthed HiPPOs, arrogant ZEBRAs, or unfocused WOLF types. 

2. Communicate convincing product narratives 

Great product storytelling can get powerful exec HiPPOs on board, motivate disconnected RHINOs, and convince arrogant ZEBRAs and distractible WOLF personas to get behind your product plans. 

Users should be the protagonists in your product story. The first step is working out exactly who they are and what they need using a range of user research techniques. 

Product experience insights tools like Hotjar help you gather quantifiable data: you can measure net user satisfaction scores with Incoming Feedback widgets and identify unpopular features with Heatmaps and Session Recordings. 

But you’ll need to go beyond quantifiable facts and figures to create a story that resonates emotionally with your team and other stakeholders. 

Use Hotjar Surveys to unearth VoC data that conveys users' thoughts and feelings and gets your audience on board with your plan.

3. Collaborate across different functions and departments

Communication is one of the most important product management skills. PMs act as a channel for information flow between users, organizational departments, and the product team. 

What’s more, great product decisions are often made in collaboration with other organizational stakeholders. 

Hotjar helps teams access product experience insights to drive a collaborative, user-driven organizational culture. Hotjar integrates with a suite of tools—like Slack and Zapier—so you can infuse user data into your everyday communications and get on the same page during cross-team conversations. Sharing user data alongside updates on the product development process helps other departments understand what you’re doing and why. 

Ensuring your priorities aren’t derailed by other stakeholders is all about transparency. It's easy to come up with ideas and say they need to be done ASAP. It's much harder to do that while looking at a dashboard featuring many updates currently in progress. Having a live dashboard helps everyone in the company know what's actually going on and what's coming up. 

Roni Ben Aharon
Roni Ben Aharon, Chief Product Officer at Craft.io, Craft.io

A collaborative, data-driven culture means HiPPOs and ZEBRAs won’t be the only voices being heard. Communicating user insights will also draw in demotivated RHINOs, who’ll understand the impact of their work on end customers, and keep WOLF types connected with the bigger picture beyond the immediate fires to be put out in their area. 

4. Keep the whole team connected to user needs 

Each product team member should be living and breathing user needs. 

Solving user problems is the reason your product exists—and why the team is constantly working to develop or improve it. 

It’s easy to do big blasts of research and forget about it after fixing the product roadmap. What’s more, research is often done only by PMs or product researchers.

Developers may not have time to do lengthy customer interviews, but they can stay connected to the user experience by using Hotjar. 

Hotjar’s Survey tools and Session Recordings clearly show developers when they successfully meet user needs, and when users are getting blocked. Even better: the product team will develop empathy for users, and with that, the incentive to improve their experience. 

Connecting with user experience gets demotivated RHINOs engaged and reminds WOLF, ZEBRA, and HiPPO types what’s really important, at the end of the day: your customers. 

5. Create strong product strategies and roadmaps

Product teams need a clear, shared understanding of the product goals and initiatives and a plan that shows how they can get there. Building a solid product strategy and roadmap will create a centralized touchpoint that you can use to guide your product priorities—and explain them to external stakeholders. 

Use Hotjar to gather a rich mix of quantitative and qualitative product experience data for a user-centric approach. By providing a steady inflow of user data, Hotjar’s tools can help you to ensure your product strategy and roadmap are always relevant. 

A user-focused, data-informed strategy and roadmap can help defuse conflicts with HiPPOs and ZEBRAs. It can also help your product team by motivating RHINOs and focusing distractible WOLF types. 

Great product habits mean great prioritization 

To achieve PANDA status, you’ll need to anticipate and recognize bad habits in your stakeholders, your product team, and yourself. Spotting HiPPO, ZEBRA, RHINO, and WOLF types early on can help you stay on track with your product priorities. 

Product managers who Prioritize Amazingly and Need Data Always feel confident that their product decisions will benefit their team, their organization, and most importantly, their users.

Hotjar helps product managers beat bad habits and prioritize brilliantly

PM teams use Hotjar to make confident, data-informed decisions—and get even the most problematic stakeholders on board.

FAQs about product manager prioritization