Many companies over the last few years have made the bold move to establish a product management discipline in their organization. They understand that to be successful they need to:
- Create scalable and repeatable products or services that customers love
- Continue to generate and prioritize innovative ideas
- Ensure the organization is marching not only in the “right direction” but in the “same direction”
- Work to a clearly defined business model that meets corporate strategic objectives
- Prioritize and resource many projects, with a finite set of resources, whilst achieving maximum ROI
This requires someone to hold it all together and keep the company focused. As Steve Jobs said “You need a very product-oriented culture… lots of companies have great engineers and smart people. …there needs to be some gravitational force that pulls it all together.”
Initially, when the company is small, the CEO or CTO will fulfill this role – but as the company begins to scale it is important that the CEO looks for support. Adding a product manager to the team is the right next step… but what exactly does this product manager do and how will they integrate with the existing team? Often there are a myriad of political obstacles that need to be addressed as people’s roles change and the organization settles into a new way of thinking.
The Product Management Dilemma
The new product manager has a myriad of functions that they “could do” – the question is what functions “should they do” that align best with the organization’s structure, vision and strategic objectives? Although there are many organizations that provide great frameworks to help product managers understand all aspects of their role, quite frankly the breadth and depth of areas to be covered would give any new product manager palpitations! You would need to be superhuman to address everything effectively! So, how do you decide which aspects of the framework make sense for your new product manager? How do you ensure that your new or existing product manager has the right level of domain expertise, can perform key aspects of the product management discipline, can communicate effectively and can earn the respect of engineering?
Addressing the Challenge with In-House Mentoring
Applying a product management discipline does not need to be an overwhelming challenge for a company. I think it is best to start with a “lean” approach to product management – don’t overwhelm yourself and your new recruit from day one.
For many new and established product managers they exist in a state of constant bewilderment and despair as the enormity of the role becomes apparent to them. They often have a very unclear definition of the role, unachievable expectations are set by senior leadership or often no expectations are set at all (which is even worse), there is no clear prioritization of projects and they have to juggle the demands of a sales and engineering team who expect their undivided attention 24/7. This situation can become a cycle of despair where the product manager becomes increasingly disillusioned and the leadership team begin to dismiss the product manager as ineffectual.
Things do not have to be this way – understanding who does what in your organization and clearly defining the role and boundaries for each group is a first step. Then, applying a structure and discipline to product management that aligns with the stage your company is at is crucial. Helping the product manager to apply methodologies in areas such as portfolio management, value proposition creation, requirements management, agile development, customer validation, ideation, ROI analysis, sales management and leadership alignment will undoubtedly help alleviate the pressure.
As someone who has performed the role of product manager and ultimately managed both a portfolio of products and a team of product managers I understand more than most how to make this demanding role effective. I learned quickly that applying structure and discipline ensured myself and my team could work effectively. We can all read books or attend courses that will give a good grounding in the product management discipline but the application of this discipline and the understanding of what works in reality comes with experience.
Don’t wait until either you or your product managers have reached the point of despair – seek the support and help of those who have done this before, who have been at the coalface and who understand the demands of the role.
“Start-up success is not a consequence of good genes or being in the right place at the right time. Success can be engineered by following the right process, which means it can be learned, which means it can be taught.” Eric Ries, The Lean Startup
Contact: Siobhan Maughan, IntegratedThinking (www.integratedthinking.ie)
Approved consultant with Enterprise Ireland – funding available.