Do we need product management?
by Steve Johnson
Product managers are in charge of whipping up all the other departments and getting them to work together. This is to make sure that the product gets pulled forward by a coordinated team of horses, rather than torn apart by horses running in different directions.—Donald S Passman, author
Rich Mironov wonders: Is Product Management Obsolete?
People in product management roles—product managers, product owners, product marketing managers, and consultants—often talk about job responsibilities, methods, tools, and templates. We start from a presumption that product management is valued, and we focus on getting clarity on its mechanics.
But what about the benefits of product management?
In a world of agile methods and lean startup and business pivot, aren’t the activities of product management already being done by someone? Some by development, some by sales and marketing, some by the leadership, some by the customers themselves. And with today’s product instrumentation, can’t the product itself gather statistics on what people value?
Why do we need product management?
Product management turns product ideas into business results. After all, anyone can have an idea. It’s figuring out the tedious details that turn an idea into a business. Product management does a lot of the hidden business paperwork.
And product management extends beyond product development to promotion, selling, service, support, and operations. A business-savvy product manager answers these questions:
- What markets should we serve?
- What markets and businesses should we avoid?
- Which types of customers (personas) will benefit from what we build?
- Which features are most important for our market?
- How do we pare the list of features down to the minimum sellable product (MSP)?
- What are our business goals and what product decisions are necessary to achieve them?
Why can’t developers just build what they want?
They can… if they are the target market. Vendors of development tools have good luck with building products for themselves but not many vendors have this luxury. Developers have asked product owners and product managers to bring market insights and business rationale to product planning meetings. Developers want market information so they can build the right product. And they expect product managers to provide it.
Doesn’t marketing know what the market wants?
I don’t know; do they? Marketing professionals and product marketing managers are usually more focused on campaigns than products. Are your marketing people expert on the product and its capabilities? Do your marketing people interview clients about the problems they’re trying to solve? Do they bring detailed information back to either product management or development in the form of actionable requirements? I’ve helped companies define a new role—the market owner. Market owners maintain a market roadmap and deliver market requirements to the product management team. That means they need to be schooled in research methods as well as how to write requirements.
Why can’t sales people tell us what to build?
Sales people can tell us about features their prospects need—and this is valuable information—but this is not really what they were hired to do. Sales should focus on getting customers for what we’ve already built. It's not their job to determine what product to create. Ideally, sales people want a product that is ready to be sold, not one that has to be finished based on prospect feedback.
Why product management?
A product playbook ensures you build the product right and build the right product.Some consider product management the “one throat to choke”—one place to go for answers and one person to take ultimate responsibility. That’s one way of looking at product management. Better yet, the product manager serves as a clearinghouse for all ideas. Product management starts with an idea—whatever the source—and validates the idea in the marketplace.
Justify your leadership’s strategic vision by vetting the idea with the market, assess the impact with a business case or financial plan, and maintain transparency with a portfolio roadmap. This is where business expertise is most needed.
Empower the rest of the organization with artifacts that translate your leadership’s vision into action. To do this, share the roadmap, explain the product’s desired capabilities, and identify the target buyers for the solution.
Analyze your most successful customers to create ideal buyer profiles. Refine your product, marketing, and sales efforts to focus on this ideal. When you design the product for this ideal customer, you’ll have fewer difficult customers, clearer marketing messages, and a shortened sales cycle.
- Marketing should focus on promoting what we’ve built.
- Sales should focus on getting customers for what we’ve built.
- Development should focus on building the product right.
- Product management should ensure we build the right product.
Do you and your team know how to get from idea to market? Maybe you need a product playbook—a set of tools and methods for consistency in product management deliverables. A product playbook ensures you build the product right and build the right product.