Product ManagementSaeed

Product Management – You’re doing it wrong

by Saeed Khan
boat_wreckWould anyone hire a sales rep, have him spend his time updating the website and then wonder why the sales aren’t coming in?

Or how about hiring a accountant, asking her to project manage the development team, then question why the books aren’t up to date?

Or how about having some of the software developers spend time crafting marketing emails and then ask why code is delivered late?

Or lastly how about hiring a product manager and having her update the website, project manage the development team and craft marketing emails and then wonder why the product strategy and roadmap are not effective and complete?

Well, the first 3 are pretty much non-starters, but the last one — product management — is unfortunately far too common at many companies, and shows a clear dysfunction when it comes to defining product management responsibilities.

Product Managers have spoken

The results of our survey — What keeps product managers from being really effective? — paint a pretty clear picture of this dysfunction, with product managers doing everything from technical support to project management to, as several people put it, “janitorial work”.

Why are people hired to focus on the success of the product, for both the short and long term, getting mired down in duties that, for the most part, have little to do with the reason they were hired?

Product Management IS a cross-functional role. That DOESN’T mean Product Managers should do the work of other teams.  It DOES mean that they should be ensuring that work is being done by the right people and is aligned with overall product success goals.

Success requires coordination

To maximize product success, 4 areas must be aligned. These are:

  • Business activities and objectives
  • Organizational readiness (internal and external)
  • Go-to-Market plans and activities
  • Product plans and capabilities

Each of these breaks out into a number of activities and deliverables, some of which must be done by Product  Managers, and others which are done by other teams under the oversight of Product Management. If Product Management is not focusing on aligning and optimizing these areas for each product, then your company is losing out on top-line value.

Management needs to make sure the work that SHOULD be done by other teams is ACTUALLY being done by those teams and not by (typically understaffed) product management.

Otherwise, you might as well ask your sales reps to start working on that website. The business benefits will be about the same.


Tweet this: Product Management – you’re doing it wrong http://wp.me/pXBON-4eC #prodmgmt 

About the Author

Saeed Khan is a founder and Managing Editor of On Product Management, and has worked for the last 20 years in high-technology companies building and managing market leading products. He also speaks regularly at events on the topic of product management and product leadership. You can contact him via Twitter @saeedwkhan or via the Contact Us page on this blog.

  1. Matt Khoury (@mkhoury)

    It also really depends on what phase your product is in, and what your immediate goals are. The “janitorial work” comment really applies to products in the starting phase – where the PM does anything and everything to help the product ascend.

    1. Saeed

      Matt, it does depend on the phase of the product, but far too many PMs end up doing “janitorial work” because no one else does it or it’s expected that they fill in the gaps of other groups. Neither is right. PMs are Cross-functional LEADERS, not Cross-functional workers. Big difference. 🙂

  2. Aldwin Neekon

    Part of it has to be a misuse of the phrase “You’re the CEO of the product”. The thinking goes something like this: If you’re the CEO of the product, you’re responsible for its success, which means if it has to get done, you make sure it gets done. So get it done.

    The problem is that unlike a real CEO, the product manager has no authority to hire and delegate. Where the CEO would hire a janitor and a copywriter, the product manager becomes the janitor and the copywriter.

    Should the product manager be given more authority to delegate? Or should we hire product managers who are better at delegating without authority?

    1. Saeed

      Thanks for the comment Aldwin.

      If companies believed that PMs are CEOs of their product and truly enabled that behaviour and responsibility, then things might be different. CEO’s HAVE authority over others. If the CEO of any company asks for something, people deliver. That’s not the case with most product managers because they are “cross functional” leaders and don’t have the same kind of positional authority a CEO has.

      So “CEO of the product” sounds nice, but in reality it’s a rather meaningless phrase unlesss it’s supported by authority, process and accountability.

      The other problem is that companies need to think about Product Management as a department properly staffed etc, and not simply of Product Managers as individual contributors focusing on requirements etc. In many companies, Product Management is nebulously defined and poorly staffed with unclear goals, so no wonder there are problems. There are ways to address this, and perhaps this is fodder for some upcoming blog posts. 🙂

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