Organizing product management

by Steve Johnson, Under 10 Consulting

A vice president at a bank created a method for detecting fraud. He was recruited by a vendor to develop a product based around his domain expertise. But because he also had market expertise of the industry—he’d been a bank vice president after all—the sales team hounded him for sales calls. The sales people said, “I need you to come talk about banking issues with my buyers.” For nine months he was the darling of the sales people… until the day he resigned. His goal was not to be the guy who could “talk bank” to help generate sales of other products; his goal was to protect banks from fraud using his algorithm.

When organizing teams, you want to align the different areas of expertise with the needs of your business. Rather than organizing teams around products, I recommend a product management team organized around a portfolio of products, ideally with staffing in four areas of expertise.

Organizing expertise

We’ll want one domain expert for your specialized discipline and at least one business expert. We’ll also need one or more technology experts devoted to each product or major component in your portfolio. The person with the most management experience, often the business expert, should lead the team. Seems logical enough.

And now it gets tricky. For the ideal product management team, you’ll want to supplement this core set of experts with an expert for each of the markets you serve. That’s right: a product marketing manager or market expert for each major geographic area and for each vertical industry—at least the ones you care about.

At first this seems to be a large group of people but don’t worry; you’ll find many product managers have more than one area of expertise. What’s scary isn’t the number of skills described; what’s really scary is how many teams are attempting to build products without the expertise.

The confusion of titles and roles is a problem for most organizations. We all have pre-conceived notions of what a product manager should do. Instead of thinking “do whatever it takes,” let’s identify the activities and artifacts that are the responsibility of your team members. And make sure your team has the skills necessary to succeed in the job.

Create a team of experts designed to serve your product and company needs.

Read more on this topic in my free ebook: Product Management Expertise.

About the author

Steve Johnson is a widely recognized speaker and story teller within the technology product management community. As founder of Under 10 Consulting, he helps product teams implement strategic product management in an agile world. Sign up for his newsletter and weekly inspirations.