Can your Product Manager “see the wood for the trees”?

Wood from the Trees (1)More and more 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:

  1. Create products or services that customers love.
  2. Ensure the organization is marching not only in the “right direction” but in the “same direction.”
  3. Work to a clearly defined business model.

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 fulfil 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 many political obstacles that need to be addressed as people’s roles change and the organization settles into a new way of thinking.

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 and vision. Although there are many training 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 product management framework make sense for your new product manager?

Well, it depends on the stage of your growth as 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 1.

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.

Don’t assume your product manager will hit the ground running from day 1

The Product Manager is an important resource in your company. In my work with companies I often see frustration from the CEO and the Product Manager as they struggle to understand the role of product management and how it can be applied effectively in their organization. Just because a product manager has previous experience, don’t assume they will just walk in the door and hit the ground running in a new company – it takes time and support to establish the discipline and to work effectively with all stakeholders in the organization.

It is not a sign of weakness if a new or existing product manager looks for mentorship or support outside of the organization – it makes sense.

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 the demands of the role. 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.

Irrespective of whether you are new to the role of Product Management or have been doing the job for years, look to get as much insight as you can from those around you. Product Management is a continuous learning path.

“Seeking help is not a mark of weakness, but of power”