The Whole Product Manager

By Prabhakar Gopalan

Walk into an established software company and you see these product management and product marketing silos.  [note: startups or well run product organizations don’t have this problem at all – see last paragraph in this skeptical PMM view]

hole not whole. Picture credit: iStockphoto contributor MISHA

To begin with, product managers and marketing managers are saddled with two divisive documents – PRDs and MRDs.  Move a little further there’s the big question of ownership.  Product managers want to ‘own’ the product. They’ve conveniently added the suffix Owners, sounding important all of a sudden. So we now have ‘Product Owners’.  Bear in mind nobody really reports to the product managers for all that ownership.  Who’d want to is a separate discussion.  For proof, ask the engineer sitting next to you.

But back to the product manager.  When you start your PM job you are told this very important fact in big companies – “product managers build products through influence, engineering doesn’t report to product management”.  Just that very statement gives Cialdini’s book an instant spike in sales.  What about marketers?  Ah, they’ve become ‘revenue marketers’ now.  Revenue marketing has been in vogue for a while.  It is when marketers have finally figured out what they are actually supposed to do.  As if the word market didn’t really give enough clarity about revenues they added this powerful prefix Revenue to their title.  Nice job marketing yourself!  But wait,  no market, no revenues.  It’s that simple.

So what’s the current state really?  Product Managers are ‘Product Owners’ and Marketing Managers are ‘Revenue Marketers’.  I don’t know how you could have ownership without owning revenues or revenues without having ownership.  And therein lies the problem in the tech industry.

What are the daily complaints in the above set up?  Product managers accuse Marketing managers of having no clue about the product, having no technical understanding of APIs, programming, not being able to log into the console and make a demo of the shitty product that lacks half the features the nimble startup across the street is pumping everyday.  And Marketing Managers?  They talk about how product managers don’t have a clue about the market, the buyer personas,  the users, or even describing what the heck the product is supposed to do for whom.  Not just another feature release please.  Tell me why would anyone value this feature?  And not every feature really has to go on CNN and Fox and if it didn’t it is really not marketing’s fault!

Here’s a simple solution to this situation – start becoming a Whole Product Manager.  That means start becoming the founder of your product.  Yes, it is very hard to do both product management and product marketing.  And yes, it is not scalable, blank, blank, blank…(fill in the blanks with other enterprise words).   It’s no longer about one side of the equation.  Want traction? Start thinking end to end – become the system thinker, the Whole Product Manager.  Learn everything for the sake of your product and do everything for the sake of your product.  It’s your baby.  If you can’t raise it, don’t expect others to raise it for you.  And the reality is they’ll do a poor job of raising it or you won’t be happy with it.

For the 99% of us that can’t do that, here’s some advice.  Suck it up and do your job really well and show us why you are awesome, not why your peer in product management or product marketing sucks.

Of course, if you are the lucky 1% in a startup that will do everything from writing code to hanging in the clouds to get your VP of Product [blank where blank = Management or Marketing depending on the day] 1.5% equity materialize in the minor event of an extremely unlikely exit through a soul crushing acquisition, just do what you already do – build that awesome product!

Prabhakar Gopalan @PGopalan

Tweet this: The Whole Product Manager http://wp.me/pXBON-3Rd via @PGopalan @onpm #prodmgmt

About the author

Prabhakar Gopalan is an entrepreneur and growth strategist.  In 15+ years, he has worked in a diverse set  of roles including consulting, systems engineering, IT architecture, product management, product marketing and corporate  strategy.  He speaks on management, innovation and strategy.