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Ask the expert: product managers are busy elsewhere

Q: Some product managers fail in their responsibilities by spending too much time supporting other departments. How can I deal with this?

I’ve found that many companies understaff customer support and rely on product managers to support the support team. That means the product managers are not doing their jobs because they’re busy doing other departments' work.

How many departments are hiding their headcount in product management?For many firms, the sales team lacks an adequate number of sales engineers so product managers support the sales efforts. Support lacks adequate technical skills so product managers help out. Marketing lacks product knowledge so product managers help out.

As I say in my workshops, how many departments are hiding their headcount in product management? [Tweet this]

If the product manager is spending too much time on non-product management activities, it may also be because the leadership demands it—or at least seems to. Product managers hear “your job is to do whatever it takes for product success.” So, does that include helping sales people close deals, helping support close tickets, helping QA identify bugs?

I would challenge product managers to document how much time is spent supporting other departments, in order to make a recommendation to increase the headcount in the departments that rely heavily on product management skills. Look at the whole process from idea to market: where do we need to increase the number of people or the skills of the staff? Development, marketing, sales, support, services—all these groups need product skills and should hire their one rather than rely on product management.

Let me know if you need help explaining the strategic role of product management to your leaders.

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