Structuring a Product Management team (part 1)
A lot of what gets discussed about Product Management usually focuses on the lone Product Manager: that never-say-die individual who is as comfortable speaking to technology-savvy individuals as he/she is speaking to those whose focus is the market and the bottom line.
But, in reality, when it comes to a larger technology company with a wider portfolio of complex products, a product management team really needs to be built to optimally manage the products. The question is, how to structure the team for best results?
There are many ways to structure teams. The first question that must be answered though, is what what will this team of people do? At this point, it’s important to revisit the role of product management in your company and what the primary goals are. The reality is that the PM team will have different priorities in different companies, depending on how the company is driven.
Seth Godin has a good blog entry listing various types of Drivers. And while not all apply to technology companies, there are a lot more than you’d think!
Now, what kind of company are you in? If your company is technology driven, then likely there is a very close association between engineering and product management, and the PM team members can be split along technology segments. e.g. one PM handles Web Services and interoperability. Another handles metadata and the data layer. Another handles server availability and scalability etc.
While there is nothing inherently wrong with a technology driven company, it can mean an inward technical focus for the PM team and not enough focus on customer and market problems.
If the company is sales driven, then the PM team needs to focus on the deal flow that is coming in and optimizing requirements to deliver on the commitments that have been made to customers. This is very different from a technology driven company. This is the ultimate outward focussed driver. The problem here is that, given the sales focus, it becomes hard for PMs to be proactive and forward thinking, particularly if customer expectations are that their needs will be addressed “in the next release.”
Assuming you know what drives your company and the focus of the PM team, the next question is how many product mangers do you need? I’ve written an article on this on ProductMarketing.com entitled You can never have too many Product Managers. The article attempts to describe the problem many companies face where Product Management becomes a bottleneck to efficient deployment of Engineering resources. It ends with a simple discussion of how to rationalize a ratio between the number of people in the Engineering team, and the number in the Product Management team.
While far from perfect, the rough estimate of a 1:10 or 1:15 ratio of Product Managers to Engineering staff seems to apply. It could be as low as 1:5 in some companies or as high as 1:20 in others. Regardless of the ratio, one needs to look at the maturity of the engineering team, the complexity of the product, and the aggressiveness of the competition to ensure there is enough PM resource to deliver high quality requirements in a timely manner, and then see those requirements though the development process and out to the market.
My view on the team structure is that it should:
- be defined around existing and emerging lines of business in the company
- ensure the long term focus on the products under management
- provide flexibility to the PMs so they can engage in new product and market research
- be nimble enough to adapt to market changes or new strategic initiatives
As you can see, this is far from completely analytic. PM team structure should be aligned with and staffed to meet company business objectives. If a lot of R&D, Marketing and Sales budget is going to be spent on a certain product initiative, then clearly a proportionate amount of money needs to be invested in ensuring the product management team is properly staffed. Why? Because Product Management is an optimization function.
how to optimize a finite set of engineering resources to implement the optimal set of product features that best solve the diverse needs of the target audience
And given the large engineering, marketing and sales expenses required to create, promote and sell a product, why wouldn’t a company invest (and Product Management is truly an investment) to ensure that those other teams’ needs are optimized.
What’s your take on this topic? Have you built out a PM team? How did you structure the roles? Why?