Even though product management is one of the most important positions within product development, it is often marginalized. The product management role is even more important in today’s turbulent environment. There are many types of change in the external environment that can impact product development by altering customer needs, introducing new technologies, and changing the set of competitors. Many industries have seen dramatic changes. Today, the product manager plays a major role in helping the project team adapt and respond to these changes.
In some organizations, product management evolved out of marketing and sales.
When three of the 4 P’s (price, place, promotion) can have an immediate impact on sales, the fourth P (product) tends to be overlooked.
The overall value of product management has not been captured. This is what we have seen within some organizations:
• Product management is viewed as a ‘sales position.’ Assigned tasks include order taking among other clerical tasks, making it difficult to treat this as a professional role
• Product management is dissolved and combined with downstream marketing or sales
• Product management is often the first group laid off within the product development team
• Product management is a short interval in the overall career path for marketing/sales
Short Case Study on Why Product Management Makes a Difference:
We worked with an organization that laid off their entire product management staff, except for one business unit (BU). A couple of years later, senior management realized that this one BU was extremely successful with innovative products as well as being more profitable.
Upon further analysis of the BU’s success, it came down to the product manager who was responsible for shepherding innovative. The organization wanted to replicate this success and roll it out across the BUs, so basically returning to the original product management model.
5 Suggestions for Product Management
1.Ensure a product manager is a core team member for projects with uncertainty (e.g. new to the company or breakthrough products, in some cases this could also include product revisions). The product manager should ensure a holistic view across commercial, technical, external and business model constraints and uncertainties
2. If your organization just develops engineered-to-order products, you probably don’t need a team of product managers. Put more emphasis on project management for improved efficiency and on-time delivery.
3. Provide a professional track for product management, like Bell Laboratories Member of Technical Staff (MTS). We find that some of the best product managers are undergrad engineers/or product technical ability with an MBA/or business training, so blended technical, business and customer/market understanding skills. We worked with multiple organizations where there is constant turnover of product management, making it difficult for the assigned category to flourish and grow. Product management and categories grow stronger with experience.
4. Depending on the organization/industry, consider product management reporting into engineering, especially if there is considerable turnover of product managers in marketing/sales as described above
5. Consider assigning less strategic tasks to a junior role that oversees the administrative duties, such as life cycle management, order-taking, etc. The product manager should be primarily responsible for the strategic direction of product development within their product category as well as identifying and resolving project uncertainty.
Product development is not going to get any easier, uncertainty is lurking around every corner. Speed and detailed understanding of changing markets, technologies and other external factors is imperative. When the environment is changing quickly, the product manager is the point person that provides a holistic view of the project (commercial, technical, external and business model constraints and uncertainty). This is the reason organizations need to professionalize instead of marginalize the product management role.