Being a working parent is hard. So is being a career in product management. Pregnancy & post-partum - you guessed it, they’re also very challenging. Combine them all and it’s a lot for anyone to balance. Parental leave is a wonderful and very necessary benefit that some PdM’s are able to leverage, and kudos to those companies who’ve made it a priority to offer (it should be a benefit every working parent has, but I’ll save the rant on benefits & social support in the USA for another time).
But there is another side to parental leave that involves stress & impact on the PdM and their colleagues/employer. Worrying about whether or not you’ll have a job when you return, or that your team/projects will be in disarray, or worse - that you should work while you’re out…these are all common concerns when taking a leave. Having efficient & impactful coverage from a product consultant during parental leave is an easy and flexible way to avoid those impacts, provide comfort/sanity to the parent, and actually add business value at the same time.
(One caveat before we break this down - I’m going to use my experiences as examples, so there will be references to pregnancy/moms/women (bc I identify as one), but the overall sentiment of this post is meant to apply to all parents regardless of gender identity.) Ok, let’s get into it.
Stressors & Risks
Being pregnant and prepping to have a baby is stressful AF, let’s be real. You’re uncomfortable, feel huge, have little control over anything that is physically happening to you, and there’s a ton of anxiety about what’s to come. At least that was my general experience both times I did it. In addition, most of us are also working during this time, figuring out how to prep our workload & teams and keep the wheels on the bus while on leave. Like me, and especially in this economic climate, they’ve probably wondered if they are at risk of not having a job to come back to, or if they’re going to return to a big mess.
In addition to the personal stress for the parent taking leave, there are impacts to the business & their cross-functional colleagues if there is a gap within a critical product management role. There often isnt space on others’ full plates to take on another team or project or sprint, especially for months in a row. There’s all of the in-progress work to manage, future work to prepare, knowledge continuity & expertise, and all of the other daily tasks & fire drills we deal with as PdM’s. A key team member being gone for an extended period of time is disruptive and challenging and can leave lasting impacts on the team. The good news is that scenario can be avoided, and there’s a pretty easy solution.
Enter the Product Consultant…
A product management consultant, even with fractional involvement, will alleviate those risks and the longer term impacts of them. It’s also a smart move for any company that values continuity, innovation, and employee well-being. It offers numerous benefits for both the PdM and the company as a whole.
Velocity & Delivery
First and foremost, it provides peace of mind knowing that high-priority projects and responsibilities are in capable hands and will continue to move forward. Colleagues won't have to scramble to pick up that product work & stakeholders won’t have to worry that things will slow down. Plus, there’s a job to come back to. Speaking from experience, the mental comfort this brings allowed me to enjoy my leave without any worry about my job or my team, or the temptation to check Slack/email.
In a product leadership role, the coverage provides critical support to the product team, while also ensuring that strategic & executive needs are met. An executive product consultant can not only keep the status quo intact and avoid disruptions, but can also bring a level of experience and objectivity to the role. This creates opportunities to optimize the team & operations within the product organization, and provide key learnings to the product leader when they return. Everyone benefits, including the bottom line.
Innovation & Knowledge Continuity
In addition, PdM consultants bring new ideas and perspectives to not only the role, but to the product itself. A fresh set of eyes/ears with their own set of specialized experience & knowledge will see new opportunities for improvement and bring another variety of tools & skills with their ideas. They will assess the product with a new lens and infuse innovation, ultimately making it better/faster/stronger. This leads to better business outcomes and higher ROI for the business in the long run. I love a good win-win.
Having a PdM consultant cover parental leave also ensures there is continuity of product knowledge and leadership. The consultant can maintain the momentum of ongoing projects, document operational changes, and help facilitate a smooth and detailed transition of knowledge when the PdM is back. The added cross-functional support
Employee Satisfaction = Retention & Cost Savings
Studies show that companies that provide adequate parental leave and support have higher retention rates, better employee engagement, and stronger talent pipelines. A Harvard Business Review study found that companies offering paid parental leave had 20% higher retention rates than those that didn't. Moreover, a report by McKinsey & Company showed that companies that promoted gender diversity and equality had a 21% higher likelihood of outperforming their peers.
Last but definitely not least, having a product consultant step in can actually benefit the PdM’s career. I jump at any opportunity to expand my network, learn new skills, and build relationships with others within product & tech. In this case, rather than feel threatened or nervous about losing my job, I’d get even more benefits from the product consultant’s coverage. They’d help support my team, impart their knowledge to them, bring additional ideas, and offer objective perspectives to my role. I mentioned I love win-win’s, right?
To summarize, hiring a product consultant to cover a PdM’s parental leave provides numerous emotional, practical, short and long term benefits to both the parent and the company. Leave can be taken with the comfort and confidence that the PdM’s role is in good hands, their team is supported, and their job is secure. High priority work continues moving forward, the business avoids the negative and costly impacts from gaps in critical roles, and its product is infused with new ideas & opportunities. It’s an excellent investment on all fronts.