In a recent conversation with a friend who’s been in product management for several years, they said with some level of enthusiasm, “ACME Inc. has asked me to lead the product management team. Do you have any good advice?” I smiled, offered my best wishes and some words of advice. I’ve thought about the conversation since and will recant some of my comments and share some new ideas.
Where Do I Start?
There are two avenues a new product management leader has to address. One is focused on vision fulfillment and meeting the company’s expectations and the other on team dynamics and execution.
First, let’s discuss vision fulfillment. In an article from Harvard Business Review Building Your Company’s Vision, the authors stated; “Vision provides guidance about what core to preserve and what future to stimulate progress toward.” If you’re leading product management, you are the vision conduit and it should be your goal to acquire an understanding, motivate its progress and manage toward its fulfillment by using the resources you lead.
While you may want to dive into every piece of the vision and its strategy, be prepared to ingest this in bite-sized pieces and use the knowledge of others on your team and elsewhere in the company to support your lack of knowledge. Remember, it’s your goal to know what the vision is, be able to articulate it, and not become consumed by it and forget your leadership challenge.
Alignment Can Be Simple – Don’t Start with Titles
The success of any product management team is balancing and aligning resources and understanding what’s required to meet company goals.
I’ve seen many organizations design their teams based on industry accepted frameworks such as Pragmatic Marketing or Zig Zag Marketing.
In his article, The Product Management Triad, Pragmatic Marketing’s Steve Johnson offers some suggestions on alignment that are centered on roles and responsibilities.
While focusing on roles and responsibilities is the ultimate outcome, I would recommend you move back one step and assess the current team, its skills and experience, and then move to the alignment stage.
How do you do this? The product management leader has to become familiar with the teams current skill set, visible challenges and capabilities. Assessing these areas and asking questions of the team and those who interact will give you the insight you require. Below are several questions that will jump-start the assessment of your team. (These questions are also great for personal development assessments.)
- Who currently manages the strategy and roadmap?
- Who has knowledge of and can articulate the corporate vision and its strategy?
- Who currently listens to the market and gathers information with success and consistency?
- Who has strengths in collaborating with internal teams that support product delivery?
- What’s the product management background, experience and skill set of those on the team?
- Who leads the development of business cases in your organization?
- Who has past success in understanding market problems, defining requirements, use cases and features and can articulate these in non-technical terms?
- Who has experience in acquisitions and partnerships, and understands the balance of integrating these strategies with the products you build?
- Who currently manages your product marketing roadmap?
- Who is experienced with enabling sales success?
With the assessment complete, you are ready to look at alignment and how it meets the needs of the business. As a reminder, if you haven’t read my post “Planning for an Action-Oriented Team”, you should. As the product management leader, you have to understand the market-orientation of your company. You should consider reading the “Executive of Influence” as it provides insight into the executive personalities that may affect the alignment of product management.
I recognize that in product management teams, one size doesn’t fit all. There are small teams, new teams, teams that lack certain resources and others that have limited budgets for restructuring or hiring to fill key gaps. However, at a minimum, if someone is assigned to the following areas, your team will have success. Well-executing product management teams have someone aligned to the following:
- Managing Strategy
- Managing Products
- Managing Markets
You’ll notice that I haven’t mentioned titles. I’ve tried to stay away from this topic as there are numerous titles associated product management. I believe we fixate on titles, roles and responsibilities more than understanding the needs of the team, knowing what is expected and then aligning the skills, experience and capabilities to meet the need.
In my next post, we’ll delve deeper into aligning product management teams. Until the next post, re-read the assessment questions, add a few of your own and get busy knowing your team.
Special thanks to Bjorn Hurri for use of the artwork. You can find more of his illustrations and art at www.bjornhurri (dot) (com)