Navigating Big Wins: A PM's Playbook for Complex Projects

Navigating Big Wins: A PM's Playbook for Complex Projects

As you progress in your product management career you'll find yourself at the helm of bigger and more complex projects.

What started as delivering well-defined and small incremental improvements early on in your PM career now has turned into navigating projects with big teams and with many cross-company stakeholders involved.

Learning to navigate these murky water is really important for advancing your career and making a big impact at your company.

Let's break down a complex project into three stages and discuss how to navigate each and what the common pitfalls are which I and many other PM's have fallen into.

Stage One: Building

You've gone through the entire preparation stage, aligned all the teams and got sign-off to start working on it. It's now underway and your team is working on building it all out.

This is the longest phase of the project and very difficult for product managers to navigate as you have limited control while still being responsible for delivering it in the promised timeline at high quality.

All anyone outside your team seems to ask is, "When will it be done?" or "Why is it taking so long?".

With so many stakeholders rushing you, it's extremely tempting to cut corners or pressure engineers to deliver faster. Introducing Pitfall #1: rushing things out to appease stakeholders.

This is a very common pitfall to fall into. You are under a lot of pressure and it seems like if you cut a corner or two and deliver the project slightly faster, things will be a lot better.

Although that makes sense logically. Everyone who is asking why it is taking so long will quickly forget about the time it took during the second phase of the project.

But why? All stakeholders seem like they are running out of patience so surely getting things out faster will appease them, right?

Although it will provide some short-term relief, long-term it's a bad move because the impression of stage two will last much longer than the building phase.

Stage two is what you and your team will really be judged on and what will stick long after the project has been delivered. Cutting corners in stage one is going to backfire big time during the second stage of the project.

Stage Two: Delivery

The stakeholders who have spent the past few months asking for status updates and estimated delivery dates on a weekly basis for months now suddenly seemed to have forgotten all about how long it took to get to this point.

Now they care about #1 thing and one thing only, quality. How good is the project you have just delivered?

If you gave into pressure during the first stage of the project and rushed things out, this is where things will backfire on you because quality is the thing that is remembered long after the project duration is forgotten.

If your project is now riddled with bugs or not delivering what you had promised, everyone will leave with the takeaway that this was a failed project that you did not do a great job on.

However, if you persisted during the first phase and resisted the temptation to cut corners, you will likely have delivered it without too many hiccups and left everyone with a lasting positive impression. Even if it took longer than your initial estimates.

Stage Three: Quantify impact and remind

It's been a few months since you delivered your project and if you've delivered a quality project, everyone has already forgotten all about it!

Ironically, the better your work is, the less people will remember it. Delivered a brand new piece of technical infrastructure that was rolled out without a hiccup? cool.

Rolled it out with taking the site down, introducing five new bugs and dozens of customer support requests? That will leave a lasting impression.

If you were able to resist cutting corners during phase one, the chances are much higher that you were able to deliver to project without issues and that has meant that people have forgotten all about it 3-6 months down the line.

Now it's your job to remind them of the quality of what you delivered and to quantify the impact. Dive into your companies' data to quantify the impact of your project and record a video or other sort of update you can send out to everyone involved/interested in the project.


This framework simplifies project delivery into three stages: emphasizing quality, shaping how others see your work, and following up effectively. For product managers, it's not just about completing tasks—it's about using projects to demonstrate strategic skills and make a real impact on the business.

Though it is difficult when your higher-ups are all pushing hard to move faster, resist the temptation to cut corners as you'll be trading in lasting impact for temporary relief.

Resists during phase one when you are under a lot of pressure, make sure you deliver high-quality work and remind all your stakeholders that you've delivered a project with lasting impact.

Remember, it's not just about getting things done; it's about making a lasting impact.