Why Product Management Matters: Thoughts on Product Management Excellence

I’ve provided this post to offer a brief glimpse into my new book, Leading Product Management: How to Create a High-Performance Product Management Organization. If you’d like to review the introductory material, please go to the link at the bottom of the page.

If you asked twenty people to define the term product management, you’d probably get twenty different answers. If you asked those same people what product managers are supposed to do, you’d probably get even a lot more answers. From my standpoint, this just won’t do. If you want your company to become a more strategic market-leading powerhouse, optimized utilization of the function of product management is needed.

Let’s start with a definition of product management: Product management is the systemic, holistic business management of products. As a note, a product is anything that’s sold, whether tangible, intangible or a combination of both. Let’s refine this a little more by saying that product management is the business management of products.

Although the product management function is included on the organization chart in many companies, the roles and expectations relegated to product managers tend to vary widely. From my experience, I’ve found that people who work in companies often confuse product development, project management, and product management functions.

Organizational structures also vary. In some companies, product managers work directly in the business functions; in other organizations, they work in geographic regions; in many firms, they report to a chief product officer (CPO). How you perceive product management is likely affected by the processes you’re most familiar with or your company’s business model. In other words, your view of product management is generally shaped by what you know and what you’ve done. No matter how you view it, the important thing to keep in mind is that product management is a function, not a job title within the organization.

When product management isn’t properly organized, aligned, or scoped, you may encounter many challenges in the process of integrating the discipline of product management into an organization as a core capability. For example, software companies that operate with an iterative or agile focus often miss vital market signals because the need for speed overshadows the requirements for business discipline. Industrial companies that process orders from end customers may never get ahead of the innovation curve because deals become most important.

With this, product management is, at its core, a model for a business organization. There’s no better way of looking at this than through the lenses of the Product Management Life Cycle Model, shown in the diagram below.

The Product Management Life Cycle Model (c) Sequent Learning Networks

In essence, product management alters the genetics of the organization up and down as well as across business functions. Firms employing this model focus on identifying customer needs, segment trends, and other market movements. This market-first viewpoint will increase the likelihood of producing better business results and optimizing the value of the product portfolio. Implicit in this view is the fact that the business benefits when products are treated like investments in a portfolio of businesses (products). With this approach, products become the building blocks of the organization, and product managers the guiding force for business excellence.

To propel any company toward a more profitable future, executives must (as the book’s chapters reveal):

  1. How to recognize the importance of product management
  2. How to stop reinventing the wheel of the product organization
  3. How to get everyone into product management
  4. How to design an organizational strategy for product management
  5. How to align roles and responsibilities for key product management practices
  6. How to staff and optimize the product manager talent pool
  7. How to cultivate and coach product managers
  8. How to build a community of practice for product managers
  9. How to charter cross-functional product teams
  10. How to govern and sustain product management
  11. How to manage the product portfolio

To gain more perspective on the importance of Leading Product Management, download the introductory material from the book by visiting https://bit.ly/LeadingProdMgmt.

If you’d like me to speak with your executive team about how to organize more effectively for product management, please contact me at sjhaines@sequentlearning.com.

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