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How to fire a product manager
And keep it cool
Situation: you’re a founder who desperately needed professional product help and hired a senior PM. But it’s not working out.
Oh, no! 🙀
I’m here to tell you that you must let them go asap, but you must be strategic and ethical. Here’s how to go about this.
First: Find what went wrong
Product managers come in many flavors; most are not the Swiss-army-knife folk. Even if they are, they may have strong preferences for different types of product work, and their product management style might clash with your style as a CEO/CTO.
Thus, the first immediate thing to do is a thorough analysis:
What specific product skills did you need them to apply?
Did they have those skills? If yes… What stopped them?
This can be their personal preference, lack of clarity around expectations, or the wrong environment (e.g., you hired a growth product manager to work on a pre-PMF product).
It may also be you. Many founders find it challenging to surrender the custody of their product to a PM and end up intervening and outright micro-managing the work. No bueno.
If no… Why did you hire them?
You may have skipped the steps and didn’t craft a clear hiring rubric or didn’t train your interview panel members.
This simple root-cause analysis will go a long way in helping you understand what went wrong.
I once worked at a startup where I was the second PM. I worked with them for 4 years. However, my predecessor had a different fate. He was fired after a few months, after which he joined Google and built a fantastic career there.
The difference was that I was a hungry and scrappy technical PM who could move at a rapid pace with no structure, and he was an MBA graduate trying to do things by the book — at the expense of execution speed.
Second: Build a hiring plan
Once you’re done with the post-mortem, do yourself a favor and define a hiring rubric, interviewing, and onboarding plans. Here are a couple of posts to help you with that:
Product management is a cross-functional discipline, which is to say that PMs embed themselves into the fabric of your company. Firing a PM who has solid working relationships with your team can be profoundly demoralizing not only for the individual but for the group as a whole.
You owe your team an explanation of what went wrong and how you intend to make it right. This, by the way, is where your hiring plan will come in handy.