PM Tip #73: The "Be More Visible" Sham

Update: See the full list of PM Tips.


One common message PMs get from their managers is to “be more visible” (I know I have given that feedback myself) .  The manager often says it this way: “Billybob, you are doing great work, getting the right things done on time, but you are not being visible enough about it so no one knows it”.  This is a sham!  It implies there is some inherent value in showing up to meetings, sending lots of email, doing slick mulit-color status reports.  There is not.   Of course all of these things can be good tools toward some other end, but they are not the goal in and of themselves. 


This exhortation to “be more visible” also leads the employee to think they are doing the right stuff, and it is others fault for not noticing.  This is likely not true either.  There are very few PM jobs where work in a dark office not talking to anyone is a key element of success.  It is more likely the feedback from the manager should be “you are not doing the right things, because you are not having an as much of an impact on others as you should be”


The key to most PM jobs is leading and influencing others.  So, rather than thinking about how to be more visible with what you are doing, ask yourself: “what is the best way to lead and influence others? “ Think about people in your workgroup, people across the company, people up the management chain, and people across the industry.  What tools can you use?  What communication channels are most appropriate to drive your agenda? 


Some good and bad examples to get your gray-matter churning:


-       I have personally been influenced by a status mail when it clearly highlighted an important issue... I have also deleted tons of status mails that present impossible to parse, white-washed, meaning-free data.

-       I have seen a well placed word in a hallway conversation between 2-3 people have a profound effect on our product direction and I have personally wasted hours in meetings with no focus, the wrong people and no results.

-       I have greatly benefited from folks that link-blog or forward interesting data with their own color-community highlighting and drawing implications about the relevant points and I have been burned by not having the data someone on my team knew but didn’t find a way to pass it on to me. 


How about you?  Have you heard the “be more visible” advice?  Have you given it?  What is good or bad about it?


Comments (5)

  1. michkap says:

    There is one kernel of truth in the point — if you are a PM you do have to be more visible in the sense that you have to be around. People have to be able to find you!

    Program Managers often act as the glue between other disciplines and other teams. And if they are not around, then it is much harder to do that.

    Though of course the feedback "show up for work more often" is a little bald, so perhaps one could look at "being more visible" as a polite way to say it. 🙂

  2. Lance Hunt says:

    IMHO the value and meaning of the advice (or admonishment) to "be more visible" completely depends upon the role of the individual.

    If your role is that of a leader or requires public-facing communication, then often the statement is tied to an actual job-requirement to be a visible force for the company.

    However, in the many times I have heard this phrase, it was most often directed at an individual member of a team who desired nothing more than to do his job to the best of his/her ability. The reason for the reproach in such cases usually is an attempt to turn an average or better role-player into a leader – often in spite of the fact that the employee has no desire to become such.

    In most cases, I feel that the core issue at the heart of that statement is a mismatch of expectations between the advisor and the advisee.

    I have witnessed both cases where the advice was well-deserved and others where it was completely undeserved. In the latter case, it can lead to frustration, confusion, and hurt feelings that often cause more problems than it might have solved had it been on-target.

    As eluded to above, choosing to clarify ones roles and expectations will often reveal the exact meaning of "visibility" and will typically be more fruitful than the blanket "be more visible".

  3. BradA says:

    Michael I think we are saying the same basic thing.. Visibility in and of itself is a non-goal, but, certainly it is an incidental part of being a good PM which, as you say does involved connecting people.

    Lance You are right, it does vary from job to job, but the key, even for a public face type of role is not visibility for its own sake. It is visibility to drive some agenda, to make some change happen. Visibility is but one tool to use, not the goal itself. Scoble is a great example clearly he is a ver visible guy, but he is visible to drive some goal.

    You are so right about expectations… I have seen that as well. Getting clear with your manager what you expect and getting out of them what they expect is a super important part of getting a job youll love doing!

  4. I have never been given the advice to be more visable but I think this blog post is good advice.


  5. At Mix I ran into Jeff Atwood who reminded me about a my post on the "Be More Visible" Sham . He also

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