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Introducing Product Management into an Organization

NOTE: The following is a guest post by Shardul Mehta. If you want to submit your own guest post, click here for more information.

If you are considering introducing Product Management into your organization, or are the first Product Management employee hired into an established business, then tread carefully! Having twice done the latter, I can attest there are fewer professional situations more fraught with ambiguity, unreasonable expectations, threats from every corner, and high likelihood of failure for the Product Manager and the organization.

Why would a successful business decide to introduce Product Management into the organization at all? In one of the companies I had joined, the business had been extremely successful selling variations of essentially the same product for years and years. But with potential new clients drying up, the execs decided what the company needed was more “innovation” and their answer was to create a Product Management department. Other reasons could be:

  • With everyone in the company focused on marketing, selling, customer service, managing operations, hiring, and a hundred other things, the organization finds no one is focused on growing the product portfolio.
  • On the other hand, the product portfolio may have grown like wild fire, and now there are multiple versions of the product, causing customer confusion and inefficiencies within the organization. Time to consolidate.
  • The product itself has become so “feature rich” that sales and marketing no longer know how to position the product to customers, customers cannot be serviced efficiently, and delivery dates keep slipping as each additional piece of functionality adds exponential risk to development and testing.

For any of these reasons, the company executives decide its time to bring in Product Management.

Buyer beware

Although these situations may seem ideal to introduce Product Management, they abound with pitfalls for the unaware. It’s important for both company execs and Product Management to be mindful of numerous land mines:

Unfounded unreasonably high expectations.Product Management is suddenly looked upon as the silver bullet answer to all the company’s problems.

Not all expectations are created equal. Expectations are also different across each department:

  • Engineering/IT expects Product Management to write requirements, project manage the delivery, conduct UAT, manage defect resolution, and make release go/no go calls.
  • Sales expects Product Management to be available for every sales call, produce sales collateral, do product demos, commit to product features that will help them close the next big deal, and have them available by the date they already promised to the client.
  • Marketing expects Product Management to provide the content for marketing materials or, worse, wants nothing at all to do with Product Management.
  • Execs expect Product Management to come up with the “next big thing,” have a solid business case behind it, deliver it on time, and ensure it makes a ton of money.

What does Product Management do? Most times folks don’t understand the role of Product Management and the value it brings to the organization. Let’s see…

  • Salespeople close deals.
  • Marketing does market research and advertising.
  • Operations manages call centers and business processes.
  • Account management manages client relationships.
  • IT takes care of “all that technical stuff” the rest of the organization would rather not be bothered about.

Pretty straightforward. So what exactly does Product Management do? And here’s the fun part: even the executives of the company – the same folks who decided to introduce Product Management – may not be clear on what exactly it does!

Why do we even need Product Management? Infinitely worse is when folks secretly question the decision to bring in Product Management. This is typically prevalent at the department head and rank & file levels.

The thinking goes this way: “We’ve been successful all these years without it, so why do we need it now?” Product Management represents a disruption to tradition and the status quo. As such, it is seen as a threat. We human beings typically don’t embrace change so readily. In one company, IT had historically written the business requirements and the business was more than happy with this arrangement. When Product Management came into the picture, the battle lines were drawn!

The scapegoat syndrome: A popular way for other departments to deal with the threat is simply to blame Product Management for anything and everything wrong with the product. Suddenly Product Management is getting blamed for deals not getting closed, because the product does not have the features desired by the last “hot” prospect.

If the product has holes, Product Management is called to task for writing poor requirements. If customers don’t respond to marketing, Product Management is accused of not understanding the customer. If customers report bugs in the product, Product Management is asked to immediately identify fixes. Product Management becomes everyone’s favorite punching bag. It’s amazing how fast this happens.

The bottleneck syndrome: Somewhat related to the scapegoat syndrome, except this one is often self-inflicted. The new Product Manager declares, “Product Management owns the product.” And sure enough, soon he or she does indeed own everything to do with the product. All decisions, all issues, are swiftly sent to the Product Manager, who quickly gets swamped with putting out one fire after the next. Pretty soon, no department is getting the support it expects, the backlog piles up, delivery timeframes get jeopardized, the execs are still waiting on the product strategy, and everyone is pointing to Product Management as the bottleneck.

Eyes wide open

So before you introduce Product Management into your organization, or sign up as the first Product Management employee, be mindful of these traps. In my next post, I’ll share hard fought lessons on how you can avoid them and prepare for long-term success.

Have you ever been one of the first product management employees hired into an organization? Please share your story. I’d love to hear from you!

Shardul

Tweet this: Introducing Product Management into an Organization http://wp.me/pXBON-37M #prodmgmt #innovation

Shardul Mehta is a simple product guy whose passion for great digital experiences is only exceeded by his love for chicken curry. He is the Founder of ProductCamp DC, and his blog can be found here.

 

0 comments
  1. Marc Strohlein

    Nice post–I am in the process of introducing the concept of product management to a client and the silver bullet notion is most definitely of concern–totally agree that setting and managing expectations is key.

  2. Braden Preston

    Great post! Many of the points hit home. I enjoyed the read. One of the ways we were able to the answer the “Why do we need Product Management?” question was to have an executive sponsor evangelize product management within the organization…it is taking time, but I think we are getting there.

  3. Tom Evans

    One of the the other traps that I’ve experienced is the founder or CEO that brought the company to the current stage and think they are the best PM around. The typical challenge is that they had the skills to get the company to that current point, but they don’t have the depth and discipline to execute the PM role as the company scales or makes shifts around their products.

  4. Liz Love

    I’ve recently joined a company as their first PM, having now been here for 7 months. Thankfully, my role and I have been pretty well received, although I definitely see evidence of some of the things mentioned here (silver bullet and fear of change being the biggies). Change is hard, and whilst many people have adapted easily, there’s still lots of work to do. I keep trying to remember the picture and look back to remind myself of the successes that I’ve had as motivation that I can do it! Having a supportive team around me has helped, with buy-in from exec level being imperative.

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