Creating An Effective Product Management Organisation

For those of you who don’t know, @cindyfsolomon and Adrienne run a weekly Product Management Twitter Talk. We invite notable Product Management professionals to lead and join discussions that hopefully enlighten and delight.

This is a summary of the 5th Product Management Twitter Talk held on 8 March 2011 (Sydney date).

This week’s topic on Creating An Effective Product Management Organisation was led by Saeed Khan, a veteran Product Manager from Canada.

An effective Product Management organisation is vital for Product Managers to succeed. Without the right structure in play, good Product Managers encounter a range of unnecessary challenges preventing them for creating value for buyers and users, and ultimately generating a return for the business. Given that organisational structure is pivotal to the success of Product Management, what does an effective Product Management organisation look like? Is it different for different sized companies? This week Saeed and various esteemed Product Managers tackled these questions with such insight and of course, humour.

The first question answered by the group in pursuit of better Product Management organisations is “How do Product Management organizations start and how do they grow?”

  • saeedwkhan: There is no single way, but the term “accidental profession” for Product Management is apt. This is done very tactically in many cases. Instead of hiring a Product Management executive, a line manager is hired and put to work “prioritizing requirements”.
    Instead of this accidental creation of Product Management in a company, it should be understood as a core function from the start.
  • sehlhorst: A lot of times Product Managers are hired into organizations when the CEO or founder decided they don’t want to or can’t handle the details that are needed to keep the product moving forward.
  • macmyday: I think that Product Management is rarely embedded in organisations from the start. It’s not until a certain complexity that organisations pay attention to the management of products.
  • shardul: For organisations that may not have had the ProdMgmt function in the past, but now do, often struggle. In fact, I would say that because Product Management straddles so many business functions/units within organisations, they’re hard to “assign” to a particular area and therefore their work is not understood well by many.
  • jim_holland: A SEAT at the EXEC table is not given, it’s earned. Trust, Value and Credibility lay the foundation. Real work opens a seat.

The second question is “What are the main problems affecting small and growing Product Management organizations?”

  • sehlhorst: For startups – I’ve seen founders attack a tactical need for “stuff we (here) think of as Product Management but not attack a need for a Product Manager.
  • roadmapwarrior: The lack of understanding of what Product Management SHOULD be impacts on the department not being included when it should be and being included when not necessary.
  • saeedwkhan: In early companies, product strategy and company strategy are deeply entwined. CEO must see that and accomodate.

The third question Saeed posed to the group “What is the overall impact of these problems on the department and the company?”

  • vifigatelix: Quality vs. quantity. It also affects time to market. It may be fast but bad.
  • sehlhorst: Main impacts are (lack of) business agility and (lack of) market prediction.
  • alwaysbeshipping: A product organisation that doesn’t seize a leadership position early on risks becoming a project management organisation of the business principals.
  • stacymonarko: Too many captains, resources stretched too thin, no “beta” customers, poor decisions.
  • Brainmates: Ultimately it may be wrong product to market.
  • leonardkish: The main problem is failure to understand users and have product demonstrate it, which I consider main role of a Product Manager.
  • macmyday: People not understanding the role and responsiblities will hamper you. You can’t launch and enhance a product if the org doesn’t provide the resources to support it.
  • saeedwkhan: Lack of understanding of role or function will hamper any department. Not just Product Management. Imagine any poorly run department.

Some words on Product Management and leadership.

  • alwaysbeshipping: It’s also a slippery slope. The less Product Management leads, the less leadership latitude it’s afforded by the company leadership.
  • saeedwkhan: People expect Product Management to lead. If Product Management doesn’t lead someone else will.
  • sehlhorst: Leading is key. Listen to customers, but don’t be a waiter taking orders. Be a maitre d’ solving problems.

Question four “Is there a recommended way to structure Product Management organizations?”

  • saeedwkhan: Overall, Product Management should be focused on business success of the product or portfolio. How you divide tasks can be different.
    You need to have scalable teams with differentiated roles that align with company focus and strategy.
    I really feel strongly that we have to refrain from talking about “the” product manager, and talk about Product Management teams. Too much focus on “the” Product Manager means we stay in the same situation with too few resources.
  • rcauvin: One way to structure a Product Management organization: teams centered around markets or products; Product Manager manages the team.
    Another method is to have a separate manager for the team, but the Product Manager is a key “lieutenant”.
  • alwaysbeshipping: I’m a big fan of super flat, super lean, and include Program Management and ux in the same organisation.
    Head of Product Management and head of Engineering should have the same boss. Alignment between Product Manager and Engineer can make or break you.
  • vifigatelix: I’ve seen better results when they mirror customer segments (for services) and product category (for goods). Services requires an extended Customer Service team and it is easier to manage by segment.
  • macmyday: Be persistent with advocating Product Manager role. Clarify this with managers and C-lvl. Take leadership for products!
  • shardulmehta: Product Management at the executive level setting, product strategy based on business strategy; then Product Managers by market segment.
  • mikeboudreaux: Structure based on business objectives, product lifecycle situation, and market environment.

Question five “What roles should be included in Product Management as the company (and organization) grows?”

  • roadmapwarrior: The pragmatic triad. Product strategy + Technical Product management + Product marketing.
  • saeedwkhan: Product marketing is part of Product Management and should be on the same team.
    Also, look at other departments and how they specialize roles. No different for Product Management.
    In general, organisations need to be scalable, efficient and able to achieve their goals. If not, what’s the point!
  • sehlhorst: Goals of the team: set strategy, understand market, communicate internally, engage externally, operations support / feedback.
    Roles of the team: slice up the goals, depending on people and their particular areas of interest. No magic formula. (Brainmates ad lib: Just bloody hard work!)
  • macmyday: Organisations need to become aware that the Product Management team incorporates non-PMs as well.
  • rcauvin: There’s always the idea of having a Product Manager and product owner collaborating on the same team.
  • mikeboudreaux: Organize Product Management teams based on workload and market/technical knowledge/aptitude.

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