The Ugly of Product Management


Finally (sorry for the delay) here is part 3 of the results from my survey. Part 1 — the Good , and Part 2 – The Bad — were published back in April. :-(

For this post, the specific question asked was:

If you could change aspects of your job to make it a more effective role, what would those things be? (The UGLY)

NOTE: As in previous posts, I’ve categorized the responses into high level categories and tabulated those. I’ve tried to keep a bit of consistency (where possible) with the categories used in previous survey result posts.

And with that, here are the results:

Lack of Authority

This was by far the most common answer with a lot of consistency in the comments provided by people. Not surprisingly, lack of authority was a common answer in the BAD of Product Management results. Some of the comments:

  • More decision making power
  • More control over the development process (we’re an ASP)
  • Ownership of the product in reality and not just on paper
  • More “voice” over development priorities
  • Resource management (control/greater influence over dev and /or marketing priorities)
  • Give PM full ownership over the product – i.e. don’t promise anything without checking with her first, trust in her
  • Management of complete portfolio
  • Product Management participation in strategic planning
  • P/L ownership
  • Ownership of product roadmap; move it from the CEO to Product Management

Looking at these, I’m going to make an assumption that Product Management is being defined as a silo (along with other departmental silos) in companies. The last two points about P/L and roadmap ownership attest to that.

Cultural Problems

This was also a frequent response in the BAD results. I see a clear relationship between the Authority comments above and the Culture comments below. In some ways they are flip-sides of the same issue.

  • A culture that believes in good product management
  • Get people to understand the importance of product management
  • Clear accountability of teams to each other
  • Cooperation with R&D
  • Eliminate the micromanagement by empower the Product Managers to own their  business
  • Having enough time to attempt to do things right from the start rather than always rushing through each process
  • Product Management shouldn’t be defining product architecture; Engineering should!
  • More accurate LOEs (level of effort) and schedules from engineering
  • Be given clearer objectives from Management

I think most of us have heard these comments before, or probably lived them in companies we’ve worked at. The question to answer is HOW can we affect the change needed to address these issues. If they are so common, there must be common reasons why and certainly means to start addressing them, either bottom up or top down.

There was one comment that I want to pull out specifically as I think it’s a great one:

  • Get resources and time to celebrate more. Too many project teams seem to see the reward of their hard work as more work in the next project. We should be taking the lead to celebrate wins and rewarding eh people that made it happen. this is especially important in the age of Agile when projects continue for long stretches

I really think every company should take this comment to heart and address it in whatever ways are appropriate.

When I worked in California – after a LONG effort on a major release — all of the PM and Engineering staff were treated to a 3 day trip: Hawaii for those in California and Thailand for those in India. It was a very nice way for the company to show their appreciation.

These kinds of celebration and rewards can do wonders for staff morale, productivity and loyalty. Hey, if the sales teams can go to Club for their efforts, why not the people who build the product that the Sales teams sell?

Limited Staffing

Another common issue in most Product Management teams is around staffing. I’ve never heard anyone say, “We have way too many Product Managers!”. And given the cross-functional nature of the job, as well as the general lack of clear definition of the PM roles, it’s not surprising the PMs feel overloaded.

  • Have a staff of evangelists on hand to drive feature adoption
  • Hire a Project Manager to run projects
  • Have a project/program manager working with Product Management
  • Have a dedicated team of developers and project managers
  • Need more staff; business doesn’t comprehend the importance of activities, so understaffs
  • Have more product experts in house, allowing me to be a market expert

Restricted Customer Contact

It was surprising how many times people indicated that they are blocked from direct customer contact.

I’ve listed this high because it is such a glaringly obvious issue that companies need to change. I think it also goes back to earlier comments about companies that don’t understand how to define and implement Product Management. It also ties into the next heading of Job Definition and Process.  Some of the customer related comments were:

  • Be allowed to interact with customers more often
  • Have more time to spend speaking 1:1 with customers
  • Getting to speak more openly with strategic customers
  • More customer visits
  • More time with customers/prospects outside the sales cycle

Poor Job Definition and Process

This category combines two related items that seemed intertwined in the comments.  Anyone who has worked in Product Management for any length of time has encountered these problems in at least one company.

  • Define the role more clearly
  • The job requirements for the role are too broad
  • Better definition around the scope of Product Management
  • Real roadmap process
  • Less day-to-day support of other functional areas
  • Have a good process where Product Management can have sufficient influence
  • Improve the organizations ability to handle changes coming in from the market
  • Have bottom up strategy and budget planning
  • Don’t be “too Agile” and change the concept of Agile

Inefficient Organizational Structure

Another common thread when talking about changes that need to be made. This is often related to the staffing issue described earlier.

  • Hire pre-sales people in each region globally who are specific to my product
  • Restructure the company to product-centric P&L teams
  • Eliminate expectation for sales support
  • Create a PM support later to handle day-to-day issues

Other responses

There were a number of other comments that didn’t get a broad coverage in the responses. These included:

  • Strategy - 5 responses – e.g. strategic planning, clear corporate goals
  • Metrics – 5 responses – e.g. create clear measures of PM success
  • Issues with Sales – 4 responses – e.g. hire better qualified sales people
  • Budgets – 3 responses – e.g. larger travel.  Let me experience the market directly
  • Tools - 2 responses – e.g. need better tools for requirements tracking, customer summaries, sales data etc.

I’m quite surprised the Metrics didn’t get mentioned more often. It’s clear that few companies have well defined metrics for Product Management, and this causes problems in role definition and staffing.

Tools was another one that surprised me by how few mentions it received. Maybe people are actually using real tools, or may be most respondents have just given up, or maybe lack of tools isn’t one of the 3 biggest problems people face in their roles. :-(

Conclusion

So there you have it, the final installment – What people want to see changed in their roles and companies.

Does you see issues that apply to you or your company?

Are there other issues that were missed by the survey respondents?

I want to hear from you.

Saeed

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20 Responses to The Ugly of Product Management
  1. Ivan Chalif says:

    Saeed,

    Great summary and thanks for doing the primary research! Sadly, it’s not ground-breaking in that many of us who have spent quality time in Product Management have heard these issues before.

    With regard to tools, I have not been lucky enough to work at company that has invested in Product Management tools (a PM can dream, can’t he?), but I think many of us have learned to work with the tools that are available (e.g., excel, bugzilla, or whatever it laying around in the development org) and to make the most of them. I recently fought for just having a centralized location for tracking defects, enhancements, and ideas. Unless you are managing a very complex product or have a large team, it’s difficult to justify the expense (and the time it takes to evaluate and select such a tool).

    I know that collectively, we often lament the state (and status) of Product Management within our organizations, but I wonder how we are perceived by others. Do we look like a bunch of whiners?

    It would be fantastic if we had more support at the exec level or more control over the resources and teams that we need to execute successfully, but the truth is that Product Management is a multi-disciplinary role in a world of silos.

    We must play the hand we are dealt as best we can. We must lead by example as best we can. We must identify and recommend better solutions for advancing our products and our organizations, but we have to make sure that we don’t appear to be complaining all the time about how hard it is to do our jobs. We won’t (and don’t) get sympathy and it affects our credibility.

    Ivan Chalif
    The Productologist

    • Saeed says:

      Ivan,

      Agreed it’s not groundbreaking, and unfortunately that is the sad part of it. These problems and issues have been around for a long time.

      It’s hard to gauge if they are improving over time or not, but clearly there are persistent issues with job/role definition, culture, organizational structures and process that need to be addressed.

      We need to educate executives, VCs and other influencers and decision makers on the value and benefits of “getting it right”.

      This will not just benefit Product Management, but companies as a whole.


  2. I find that the missing element of product management is, due to the nature of the job, product managers become subject matter experts. Most of the time pressures seem to come from other departments who have not staffed for product expertise and assume that the product managers can fill their understaffing. That’s why product managers are in such high demand in non- product management activities.

    Thanks for this series of posts, Saeed. Always good to hear your experiences.

    • Saeed says:

      Steve,

      Thanks for the comment. I do think that is part of the problem, but I believe it goes deeper than that. I think most managers and executives don’t understand how to implement and staff a true cross functional department, and ensure that the rest of the company is clear on their role.

      It’s very easy to get silo focused and when you live in a world like that, people think and act very locally. It takes a great management team to keep both short and long term objectives balanced (and staff accordingly!) and not let the short term completely outweigh the long term.

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