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Leadership and product teams


“No one on a cohesive team can say, ‘Well, I did my job. Our failure isn’t my fault.’” ― Patrick Lencioni, The Advantage: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else In Business 

You’ve heard it many times before: “Come on! I need you to be a team player.”

Which means that you’ll be working late tonight—by yourself—to meet someone else’s commitment.

Sound familiar?

It seems too often that goals are in conflict. One department has not staffed appropriately so they rely on another group to fill the gaps. Sales people are focused on deals, Marketing is focused on awareness, Development is focused on delivering on time. What’s needed is a team of peers working together for a common goal; a team with mutual respect for each other’s skills.

In too many organizations, the leaders focus only on their objectives, protect their budgets, protect their headcounts—they act as chief advocates of their departments, rather than acting as officers of the company, acting in the best interests of the organization as a whole.

I’m reading The Advantage: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else In Business by Patrick Lencioni. And I’m highlighting something on almost every page. He writes, “Executives must put the needs of the higher team ahead of the needs of their departments.” He adds, “Few groups of leaders actually work like a team, at least not the kind that is required to lead a healthy organization.”

In both organizations and projects, shared goals, clarity of roles, and mutual respect are the key elements for team success.

There are many who need the expertise found in product management. Developers need market information; marketers need product information; sales people need domain information. Unfortunately, rather than hire those skills, these departments often rely on product management to fill their skills gap. Sales groups are routinely understaffed and underskilled in sales engineering; development teams lack adequate domain and market knowledge; marketing departments rely on product management for product expertise.

One company is planning to reduce headcount in all departments so every department is looking to shed some responsibilities. And development, marketing, and sales leaders are relying more than ever on the product management team. Rather than reducing headcount, the company now needs more product managers.

Perhaps one challenge is providing clarity on each department’s responsibilities. 

  • Who defines how to implement a feature?
  • Who decides product priorities?
  • Who responds to RFPs?
  • Who staffs the trade show booth?
  • Who writes product content for customer collateral?

One easy rule for defining product management is to count the number of customers involved. Product management, marketing, and development should be focused on the needs of all customers in a market or markets; sales, sales engineering, and support focus on the needs of a single customer in a single market.

Peter Drucker wrote, “In a well-run organization, each role has a single orientation; they either support [individual] customers or they support the market.”

Do you have clarity on the roles in the organization? Everyone has a role to play in order to be part of a cohesive team. Be clear on your role.

Want to explore more on product management roles and responsibilities? Check out my free ebook "Expertise in Product Management."

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