Friday, May 21, 2021

Product Management 101


What defines a Product Centric Organization?

As more and more organizations move to providing digital services, adding new capabilities on existing products and enter new markets the need to ensure rapid innovation, uniformity of mission and maximizing investment becomes critical to staving off competitors. A strong Product-centric mindset and organizational principals enables this focus, innovation, experimentation and planning.

Product-centric organizations are unique from sales-led or engineering-led teams, their differentiation is their ability to align closely with the proven needs and responses to behaviors of their users and customers. Where sales-led organizations will often align on how they can craft a message that is compelling without the necessary capabilities to back it up, product-led organizations will focus on testing not just a message, but a capability and relying on peoples reactions to determine the viability of new capabilities. Engineering-led organizations will focus on the more elegant solution to the problem in-front of them, even if a simpler or less elegant approach will not make a noticeable difference for the consumer.

Why do we have Product?

Product is a critical function in every organization to ensure that the work being completed aligns with the organizational needs while ensuring that constant experimentation and measurement is being done to optimize investment, features and planning. The role of Product is key to highly successful teams to ensure engineering teams are protected from changing requirements and market research activities, that while critical to the product direction, can become a distraction for engineering teams. The Product role works closely with the leadership of Engineering to partner on making ideas real, running experiments against prototypes and ensuring the entirety fo the engineering team understands our user base and their needs.

What does good Product Mgmt look like?

Centered around a Product Manager that owns 1 or more products, with a team around them that own similar and related products. The Product Manager operates as the gateway between engineering teams that build products and the supporting parts of an organization that ensure the products are marketed, sold, legally compliant, and supported. To become this center of communication a successful Product Manager must demonstrate some key characteristics:

1) Collaborative - The role of Product must build relationships across the organization, both to leverage for moving forward ideas but also to enable other teams to collaborate more effectively when the Product Manager is not immediately available. The role of Product is about creating organizational patterns for effective communication to enable a shared understanding.
2) Engaged - The Product role is built around team members that see potential issues and risk, propose solutions, gather interest to resolve and drive to completion. Product Managers bring a passion to their product, their domain and inspire the teams around them.
3) Evangelizing - The Product Manager is a public figure, representing the product and the teams that crate it. They are the voice of the product direction, the inspiration to try new things and the conduit to buyers and potential buyers to learn more about their needs and feedback.
4) Passion - Strong product teams are built around people that are passionate about their product. The use it daily. They ask people about their experiences with the product. They are constantly putting a critical eye to the competitors on how to excel. This passion is critical to bring out the best ideas, drive the most speed and allow for strong, education points of view.

Building a Prod Management Discipline (not organization)

There are two distinct areas of building the function of Product Management within an organization. The competency part is ensuring the necessary skills and practices are in place to enable Product Managers to be successful across the organization. The Product Management organization is the second part and supports the execution of the function but ensuring alignment with corporate investment, strategy, planning and regional execution.

The maturity of an organizations product function is a reflection of learnings from the outside community, the organization identifying those with the best traits to be Product Managers and building structures around them to enable their role to excel with the right air cover and resources.

Who does PM engage with?

The Product Manager in the most simplistic terms is a partner with everyone in the organization. The most successful Product Managers work in a way that creates powerful connections across the organization to ensure awareness, alignment, engineering and delivery of capabilities are working in parallel with effective communication points.

The Product Manager will foster relationships with a variety of individuals and teams, this will enable them to effectively drive their strategy, coordination communications and ensure resources are aligned on priorities and key decision points. The most common touch points for a Product Manager are:
1) Engineering Leader - The Engineering Leader is the primary conduit for a Product Manager to realize their vision, the engineering team will enable both experimentation and implementation and act as a sounding board for feasibility, timeline and innovation.
2) Marketing Leader - The Product Manager has entire Marketing teams at their disposal to not only identify customers, but to use as a sounding board for messaging and identifying potential customers to explore new ideas with and use for real world feedback on experimentation.
3) Finance Leader - The Finance Leader can be a powerful aly for any Product Management team, enabling them full visibility into how their product is selling, their cost of delivery and where and how best to optimize investments.
4) Sales Leader - The Sales Leader, in conjunction with the Marketing Leader is the conduit into the market for all product teams. This team is the best source of feedback to reactions to the product, new features and what competitors are doing to beat you out in the market.
5) Compliance Leader - Compliance is a key component of all products, between consumer privacy, healthcare law and ethical obligations Product Managers need to ensure that their launched capabilities align with the companies legals obligations, ethical imperatives and messages to the market.


Critical to the maturity of any organization is the engagement with similar minded organizations to share ideas, learn from and compare outcomes from different techniques. An effective Product-centric organization will look inward for new ideas, trial those ideas and put into practice the ones that are the most effective. A Product-centric organization will also look outside to identify new techniques, new skills and new tools to become more effective. This community engagement is a two way street, not only does the organization benefit from the outside perspective, it gives them the opportunity to share a point of view with other product teams and build consensus in the Product-community about best practices.

Building a Product Organization

The role of Product is never ending, in a small company it is possible for a single Product Manager to be effective. As the number of products increases, as the user base becomes more diverse and as the engineering team becomes able to increase capabilities at a more rapid pace the time will come that the Product Manager will grow into a team and become the Product Organization.

Growing a successful product organization has several components that must be done in parallel, if one component falls behind then the org will be stuck at lower maturity levels and unable to multiple their impact as they grow:
1) Grow Talent - The key to successful leadership is always building the next generation of leaders, grooming team members to take on more diverse work, larger bodies of work and more complex engagements with other stakeholders. As a leader of any Product organization, you must work to mentor those around you - Both Product Managers and other team members that aspire to grow into product management on the right techniques and tools be be effective and scale the organization.
2) Hiring - Any growing organization much balance promoting within and hiring externally. Hiring is key to bringing in fresh ideas, scaling the organization and increasing the collective knowledge of the organization. Before hiring, an organization should align and document what success in the role looks like and use this as a litmus test during interviews to identify the candidates best experienced to scale the organization and affect change in a positive way.
3) Work Boundaries, Priorities & Shared Vision - The effectiveness of a growing Product Management organization can be measured by the increased adoption of a product and associated revenue growth. Enabling that while growing requires that individuals know where they can operate independently, have sufficient awareness of the larger vision they are enabling and how to make solid priority calls. Organizations can not scale effectively if all decisions must goto to top; and strong organizations enable distributed decision making for effective scaling.