Many companies over the last few years have made the bold move to establish a product management discipline in their organization. Mentoring and coaching the Product Managers accountable for Product Strategy in your business is not always a priority for the executive team.
However, the executive team understand that to be successful they need to:
- Create products or services that customers love.
- Ensure the organization is marching not just in the “right direction” but in the “same direction.”
- 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.”Steve Jobs
Initially, when the company is small, the CEO or CTO will fulfil this role. 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.
Consequently, the new product manager has a myriad of functions that they “could do”. Depending on their background they main lean towards technical or strategic. They will rarely do both well. In my experience you need to hire a strategic Product Manager and pair them with a more technical Product Owner. Having one person perform both roles is really challenging. A strategic Product Manager will focus on helping your business to stay focused on the right markets. As a result they will be well connected with your customers and understand their needs well. They will present clear business requirements to the Product Owner.
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 one.
Many new and established product managers exist in a state of bewilderment and despair! The enormity of their role can be overwhelming.
Product Managers can have an unclear definition of the role. Unachievable expectations are set by senior leadership. Even worse, sometimes no expectations are set. There is no clear prioritization of projects. 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. 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 is a starting point. Then clearly define the role and boundaries for each organisational function. Once the product manager’s role is defined, apply a structure and discipline to product management that aligns with your company’s stage of growth.
Don’t assume your product manager will hit the ground running – ensure they have access to mentoring
The Product Manager is an important resource in your company. I often see frustration from the CEO and the Product Manager as they struggle to understand the role of product management. They find it difficult to see how it can be applied effectively in their organization. Just because a product manager has previous experience, don’t assume they will hit the ground running in a new company. Sometimes it can take time and support to establish the discipline. Often, it takes effort to work effectively with all stakeholders in the organization.
Therefore, it makes sense that the new Product Manager is offered mentorship so that they can hit the ground running.
In my previous roles in Product Management, I learned quickly that applying structure and discipline ensured myself and my team could work effectively. We can all read books or attend courses. These will give us a good grounding in product management. However, 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 and who have been at the coalface. It makes sense to talk to someone who understands 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.