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In the business climate of the twenty-first century, companies must hone their operations to become more strategic, agile competitors. The best approach to achieving this goal is through enhanced utilization of the function of product management.
If you asked 20 people to define ‘product management’, you’d probably get 20 different answers. Imagine asking those people what product managers are supposed to do, and you’ll probably get many more answers. Further, if you asked those 20 people about the most important attributes of a well-run product organization, you’d get more responses than you could process. From my standpoint, this is unacceptable.
Let’s start out 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 raise this just a little more by saying “product management is the business management of products.”
It’s time for leaders to focus on the fortification of the “infrastructure” of product management (the function) – and on the cultivation of the product management talent pool. Yes, as with any major corporate initiative, it falls on senior leaders to strengthen the function of product management.
I’m sure that most of you have developed powerful experiences as managers and leaders. To reinforce this, my research suggests that most corporate leaders have deep functional experience and less in product management. This means that cross-organizational cognizance (as in goings-on across the business) is not as vital as I think it should be.
Why is this important? To coach and develop product managers, you must possess the wherewithal to view the organization vertically and horizontally. This perspective is vital to fortify product management’s shape, structure, and function.
Most of you have witnessed the effects of new strategies, leadership changes, organizational realignments, and other structural adjustments. Therefore, many corporate changes and reorganizations are fraught with challenges and unfulfilled expectations. In such cases, the changes have impacts that include the following:
A domino effect leads to more changes, compounding the challenges for product managers as they struggle to clarify their roles and associated responsibilities.
A static effect that leaves day-to-day work activities largely unchanged due to fewer available resources, so product managers see increased workloads.
A degradation of continuous learning, coupled with a lack of acknowledgment of past mistakes.
In the face of all of this, I believe senior leaders can be a force for positive change by properly aligning and strengthening the function of product management in their organizations.
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 in the field, I’ve found that companies often confuse product development, project management, and product management functions.
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 have done.
No matter how you view it, the important thing to remember is that product management is a function, not a job title within the organization.
When product management isn’t properly chartered, aligned, or scoped, you may encounter many challenges in integrating the discipline of product management into an organization as a core capability.
Therefore, organizational models need to be altered to best support the function of product management and the capabilities of product managers
Senior leaders have no shortage of things to do. They focus on digital transformation, artificial intelligence, employee engagement, etc. Yet, there is not enough attention paid to product management transformation other than euphemisms like product-led, lean, and other terms designed to make short work out of hard work and applied learning.
Since the launch of my company, Sequent Learning Networks, and its sister company, the Business Acumen Institute, I have continuously collaborated with hundreds of companies and tens of thousands of people. This cast of thousands includes executives, managers, and individual contributors, and most of them work in product organizations.
Aside from giving me a position to conduct business, this situation has provided me with a genuine – and unique – learning laboratory in which a wide scope of ongoing practical research takes place. Through various corporate assessments and diagnostics performed, I have found common characteristics and challenges in product management implementations – namely these:
Product management is deeply misunderstood, grossly marginalized, and vastly underutilized. For example, some companies create independent deal-driven organizations in geographic regions. This structure does not provide fertile ground for product innovation. In these highly reactive environments, a regional executive may control the P&L, and product managers act as the fragile glue that works to keep the organization moving to meet the needs of the business.
Product management is treated like project management. This is common in industries with mature product portfolios where individuals with the title “product manager” handle inbound requests for enhancements and try tirelessly to get those in front of engineers willing to slot a few new items into their array of things to do.
Product management becomes an extension of product development. As the software world has grown, agile or iterative product development techniques have called for product managers to integrate more tightly with development. Mind you, the relationship between product managers and engineers must always be strong, but when the development method overshadows the business of the product, customers lose out, and the bottom line may suffer.
Speed cannot get ahead of business logic. When I worked at Oracle, the product managers reported to Development leaders; technology won, but customers often didn’t.
Product management is considered to be another organizational silo. This model is best described as an impenetrable “City of Silos” where functional agendas trump rational holistic business decision-making. Furthermore, independent sanctions of diverse, incompatible goals typically result in ill-conceived activities and misdirected investments. This can create products that don’t contribute to the firm’s bottom line.
By learning to recognize these and other related issues, leaders across business functions can effectively discern the common denominators that impact the performance of the corporate product portfolio. Applying this knowledge to the product management organization will help the company become a more active competitor and a talent magnet.
Who doesn’t want that?