Product Management as Executive Boot Camp
Product managers are business managers. At their best, they're respected and influential team leaders who inspire colleagues to pull together in support of common goals. Many of their thought processes mirror those of a CEO, and it could be argued that honing one's skills in cross-functional collaboration is particularly good preparation for general management.
"If you're in a functional role - Engineering or Finance, for instance - you tend to view your work from a specific perspective," observes Steven Haines, President of Sequent Learning Networks. "But when you're a CEO or product manager, you need a cross-functional, holistic mindset. You need to understand how all the parts work together."
As single points of accountability for product performance, product managers should monitor their portfolios as if they were mini-businesses contributing to the company's overall objectives. They must distill information from widely disparate sources, considering customer and industry insights alongside operational competencies in order to craft a winning business plan. They must be politically savvy, understanding organizational dynamics in order to facilitate collective problem-solving.
"In a successful company, strategy should cascade through the organization," says the vice president of a multinational healthcare product and pharmaceutical corporation. "Product managers should be key drivers of that strategy."
He explains that his own experience as a product manager prepared him for his current responsibilities. "A product manager is constantly weighing options to optimize the product portfolio. Should you invest in new product development or more aggressively promote an existing one? Looking internally, how will the accuracy of your forecast affect changes to your manufacturing line and the cost of goods sold? What type of post-launch support will you need from key functional areas like technical services, packaging or supply chain management? I was constantly scanning the regulatory environment, listening to customers' insights, and analyzing feedback to better understand acceptance criteria, such as ease of use, training effectiveness and, of course, product performance."
Importance of Digital Communications
Writing for executive search firm SpencerStuart, Jason Baumgarten and Greg Sedlock recently observed that having a product background has become increasingly desirable for CEO candidates. They attribute this to the growing role that the Internet, mobile communications and social media are playing in the user experience. The interdependence of numerous products and services in order to transparently deliver this experience calls upon the collaboration skills honed by successful product managers.
"Product managers are charged with understanding the entire business impact of the ecosystem surrounding their brands."
"Twenty years ago, a sales background was considered key preparation for general management in my industry, but that's changed," says the healthcare product executive. "Digital communications and social media are altering customer relationships. Communications devices are ubiquitous and always on. You can reach your customers at any time through electronic surveys or by pushing product information to them, providing opportunities for broader and more statistically valid insights than from focus groups. Product managers today are charged with understanding not just the product marketing mix but the entire business impact of the ecosystem surrounding their brands. So Product Management has now taken on exciting new dimensions besides the traditional decisions on price, positioning and channel. Today the skill sets of the product manager closely align to those of a general manager, making it an even more compelling role for those who aspire to executive leadership positions."