Product Talks #1 – Importance of Product Management in an Organisation

The Brainmates team conducted its inaugural Product Talks event in Sydney on the 19th of February 2009.

11 product representatives from a variety of industries attended ranging from Digital Media, Software Development, Subscription Television, Finance and Telecommunications.

Our trainer, Nick Coster led the group discussion. We spoke about the role of Product Management and how to elevate its importance within an organisation. During the session, product representatives consisting of Product Managers, Product Analysts, Portfolio Managers and Product Directors provided us their intepretation of Product Management.

Just as we had representatives from different industries, the responses to the question “what do you tell people you do?” were equally mixed. This is what our Product Managers had to say:

  • “The ‘go between’ person that communicates with all areas of the business.”
  • “The centre of the organisation that sits between Finance, Marketing and IT.”
  • “Marketing drives sales but the role of Product Management is to convert sales.”
  • “I am responsible for the commercial success of the product.”
  • “I manage the end to end process from concept to beyond.”
  • “I do everything.” (My favourite)
  • “I manage the product suite.”

Interestingly, many of our Product Managers worked in a separate Product Management team rather than as part of other business units such as Marketing or Sales. This suggests that organisations value Product Management and that it warrants its own General Manager or Director to elevate its cause within the senior levels of business.

As the evening continued, Nick asked the group how they were spending their time at work. Were Product Managers spending their time on long term planning, day to day operations, some of both or neither?

It seemed that the group spent most (80%) of their time on tactical activities and some time (20%) on strategic planning. One Product Management commented, “strategic planning is a seasonal activity. It really depends on the time of year.” One Product Manager remarked, “we can’t spend our whole time planning. Otherwise, we wouldn’t be delivering anything.”

Perhaps an alternate way of looking at the breakdown of work is to categorise activities into 3 different groups; planning, implementation of strategic plans and day-to-day operational activities. One Product Manager suggested that his organisation coached their Product Managers to spend 30% of effort on each group of activity and allowed Product Managers to have 10% of free time to learn and to think. We salute that progressive organisation!

Nick challenged the group further by asking “if the Product Management team in your organisation was fired how would your business be impacted?”

Our Product Managers said that the impact to their businesses would be significant.

  • “Other parts of the business will step in initially but quickly realise that they can’t do the job.”
  • “Product Management provides direction and strategic focus. If Product Management is not doing well, the company is not doing well.”
  • “The business would lose direction and begin to falter, customer issues would start to pile up and turn into bigger problems.”

It was refreshing to hear that our Product Managers felt that their role and the work that they do is pivotal to their organisation.

During the session, we also spent some time discussing how to elevate the importance of Product Management. This topic caused the most dissension amongst the group.

A few in the group believed that the role is considered important in organisations but the majority believed that Product Managers required more prominence in their company. One Product Manager said, “to elevate Product Management requires a robust definition of Product Manager.” Since the market as a whole has many definitions for Product Manager, the importance of the role in organisations may be somewhat difficult to attain. Others said that because many companies are so reactive and desperate for immediate revenue growth, the planning aspect of Product Management is ignored. And sadly… the role of Product Management is therefore downgraded to “firefighter.”

One notable point made during the evening is that Product Management is seen as critical to the business when the function is centralised and there is greater visibility of Product Management across the organisation. When the function is centralised Product Managers can work to develop a consistent Product Management language, methodology, processes and can easily implement Product Management training.

So “how do we improve the situation for Product Management?”

Some ideas:

  • “Product Managers need to sell our output of what we do better.”
  • “Product Managers need to collaborate with other business units more and earlier.”
  • “Product Managers have to be the business leaders of the product and have a thorough understanding of the financials.” (Although someone commented that we should not understand every number or we would be mistaken for an analyst)
  • “Product Managers need to own the capital expenditure budget.”
  • “Product Managers must be the subject matter expert.”
  • “Product Managers must build relationships.”
  • “Product Managers must be the right hand of Senior Management.”
  • “Product Managers must celebrate wins.”

And finally…. to improve our situation…. Product Managers must be squeaky even when its working perfectly.”

Product Talks was fun!

The next Product Talk will be held on May 14th 2009 at the Brainmates offices.

One of the benefits of attending the first session was the chance to vote for the next topic. The winner of the vote was to discuss:

  • Challenges developing and launching a new product“.

We hope to see more Product Managers at Product Talk#2. Contact us if you would like to attend. Or, you can subscribe to our newsletter for event updates.