Although most organizations understand the benefits of cross-functional teams, we still find that most project teams are not fully cross-functional, especially between product management and engineering. Some product development processes encourage fiefdoms, resulting in disciplines that don’t mix well. (Please note: some companies refer to product management as upstream marketing and downstream marketing as product launch and support).
This is especially evident with companies that have a phased and gated process where responsibility shifts by phase. Product management owns the early phases of the process, while engineering owns development and verification & validation (V&V) and then marketing owns the launch phase. (Or even worse, there are no early-phased activities executed and the process starts at the ‘development’ phase!) This creates a structural process ownership issue within the organization.
We were asked by a VP of Engineering if we thought engineering should be involved with product management in the early phases. At first, we thought it may be a trick question because the answer was quite evident to us. We responded that engineering should definitely be involved early in the process, because a lot can be lost in translation between the customer and engineering, especially in early prototyping.
Sometimes, we hear that engineering doesn’t want to involve other disciplines in product development, especially in organizations with high turn-over in product management or marketing. There is a tendency to assign very ‘green’, inexperienced people to the project teams, which can drag down team performance.
What’s the solution?
These internal organizational dynamics are difficult to address, especially for larger companies. At a basic level some of these dynamics can be resolved with the reorganization of new product development activities to force cross-functional collaboration. These fiefdoms can also be breached by assigning a single owner to the process, instead of three separate owners from different departments.
As we mentioned before, constant turn-over in some departments, especially in product management, makes it difficult for members of the team to build basic product development competencies. To support building competencies for product management, we are proponents for building a professional product management career track, similar to a professional technology career track that you find in technology companies.