Product Management Leadership – Converting Theory into Action

In my post You Can’t Have a Tribe without a Leader, I pledged to focus more of my posts on product management leadership. I’ll use my twenty plus years of product management experience (15 in leadership) and ask that you comment often.     

I’m often asked “How do you convert product management theory into sustainable action?” To begin, let’s look at a standard description to stage the rest of my comments. Webster describes theory as: “A belief, policy or procedure proposed or followed as the basis of action.”

 For decades, product management has been fortunate to have numerous thought leading companies’ offering seminars, training, certifications and adaptable frameworks of varying sizes and shapes to align the strategic to tactical activities within product management. I’ve seen adoptions and hybrids of all types and theory adopted wholly, originated from need or created from scratch. This post will not address “which framework is the best” however; I’ve given equal time and exposure to all (Viva Capitalism!)

An Observation

Every company implements product management differently. This isn’t a profound statement, just a true one. Why? I believe it’s associated with personal knowledge, past experience and comfort of the product management leader, the perception and expectations from executive management, influences from development, and pressures associated with a company’s personality, motives and heritage.

Considering this mix of personal, organizational and company, most organizations practice product management in theory. Why? Think about how many of us got into product management. A company recognizes there’s no lift or leadership with the products and what development has envisioned misses the mark. Sales aren’t happening and no one is assigned to understand who, what, when and why and how to ease the pain. Someone is identified who has the business acumen to ask all the right questions or at least give it a try, and BAM, you’re Product Management. This happens a lot.

Where Theory Ends and Action Begins

The example may be close to reality, but product management leadership often emerges out of desperation and not through the planning of executive management. Whether you’re the lone product management person, leading a small team or a sizeable organization, let’s face it, no one has given you a copy of Product Management Leadership for Dummies.

Product management leadership is all about action. It’s converting the theory of product management into sustainable methods. It’s organizing, guiding and enabling a team and teaching them a common language that builds momentum as a team, creates consistency in your activities and ensures product management maintains a level of credibility across organization and with executive management.

Where Do I Start

Where you start depends on your function. Let’s discuss two scenarios. If you’re product management leadership and you’ve inherited a team, or find yourself building or refining one, then you dive in. Prioritizing what needs to be addressed first usually surfaces early, but if it doesn’t, you need to answer the following questions:

  • What are the goals for product management team? (Plenty of advice to go around)
  • What expectations does executive management have? (We have a product management team?)
  • How do those expectations align with company needs? (I’m action-oriented. Can I start now?)
  • What resources, experience and skills make up the team? (Got to assess this early)
  • Are there current methods for product management? (Are they being used by everyone?)
  • What type of reputation does product management have internally? (Do you want to know?)
  • Who will product management collaborate with most? (Development, Marketing or Sales?)
  • What type of credibility does product management have? (Internally and externally?)

You can see from the list of questions, that diving in and understanding the personalities, goals, motives, and history prioritizes the actions.

If you’re a contributor in product management, you’ll play a different, but important and valued role. If you are new to the organization, you need to listen and understand. If you’ve been around for a while, you need to listen and watch the dynamics and understand. Some of the things you should be listening for or asking include:

  • Who does product management really report to? (Is it development, marketing, other?)
  • Why am I here? (Your good looks help, but what skills and experience do you bring?)
  • What’s the perceived role of product management? (Techie, Demo jockey, project manager?)
  • What talent and skills do I bring that fill needs for the organization?    
  • Who really manages product strategy? (You have one, right? Is it development, execs, other?)

In either case, I believe you start with understanding the organization and how the product management team can sustain its goals or how your individual contribution will convert from theory to action.

In the Next Post

We’ll discuss organizational alignment and what an action-oriented product management team or individual contributors should plan for.

Thanks to AIPMM, Pragmatic Marketing and ZigZag Marketing for use of images and links to content in this post.

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  • Scott Gilbert  On January 21, 2010 at 10:37 pm

    Your observations, context and questions (funny answers BTW) are really good. Looking forward to the “converting” and “action-oriented” parts cuz that’s the kind of guy I am.

  • geovanny  On February 3, 2010 at 11:47 pm

    nice post,good work


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