How to Create an Effective Product Management Organization
Last week, I had the pleasure to host one of the BrainMates Product Management talks on Twitter. These are a series of weekly 1 hour open discussions on Twitter on topics of interest to Product Managers.
The title of my discussion was Creating an Effective Product Management Organization. Brainmates have published a summary of the discussion here.
Last year, I wrote a general article entitled 5 Steps to Building a Great Product Management Organization. It served as background reading for this topic.
There was healthy discussion and the hour went by very quickly. And while Twitter is a great medium for certain types of communication, it’s difficult to get deep into any topic given Twitter’s limits. And the topic of how best to build and organize a Product Management organization deserves deeper discussion.
We discussed the following 5 questions:
- How do Product Management organizations start and how do they grow?
- What are the main problems affecting small and growing PM organizations?
- What is the overall impact on the department and the company?
- Is there a recommended way to structure Product Management organizations?
- What roles should be included in the Product Management organization as the company grows?
Now I won’t go into all these in detail, but I will cover the first 3 briefly and focus on the last 2 questions, WRT structure and roles in more detail, as that is where I see most of the confusion.
How do Product Management organizations start and how do they grow?
Product Management orgs usually start when the CEO or Board of Directors decides that a Product Manager should be hired to help manage incoming requirements because the current method (by CTO, CEO, committee etc.) is not working. i.e. in response to a problem as opposed to proactively for more strategic reasons.
What are the main problems affecting small and growing PM organizations?
Small and growing PM organizations typically suffer from lack of resource/bandwidth, scalability, ability to work across organizations, ability to impact change and in some cases, overall domain knowledge. All of these can be traced to a lack of understanding of the overall objectives of the PM role and the reactive nature in how the PM organization was created.
What is the overall impact on the department and the company?
There are a number of impacts including lack of market understanding and lack of business agility. Fundamentally the company can end up thrashing by releasing products with poor fit within the market, thus increasing overall sales, marketing and support costs, while reducing revenue and company growth.
Is there a recommended way to structure Product Management organizations?
My glib answer to this question is: Yes, structure the organization for success; that’s why I’m writing this blog post.
Let me explain.
Structuring for success means structuring to be able to achieve set goals.
For example, a sales organization without the right number of sales reps would find it impossible to achieve a sales target. If each rep is expected to deliver $1,000,000 of sales per year, and the overall goal is $10,000,000, then they need at least 10 sales reps, otherwise, they just wouldn’t have the capacity to reach the goal.
Additionally, if the product requires significant pre-sales support, then a small number of Sales Engineers would be needed based on some ratio of sales reps to sales engineers. There may be other roles needed as well — e.g. a sales manager or VP for the overall team, and perhaps 1 or 2 direct response reps to follow-up with and qualify leads for the sales team.
In this example, both the numbers AND the roles need to be present so that the sales team can reach it’s goals. The same is true for Product Management. Even though Product Management organizations are much smaller than sales orgs, numbers and differentiated roles are critical.
So, yes there is a recommended way to structure Product Management teams. Ensure they are structured to reach their goals — with enough people in the right roles :-). But there is no single model because the goals can vary, the type of company and products and markets can vary.
What roles should be included in the Product Management organization as the company grows?
Another question with many answers. Going back to the sales team described in the previous question, I mentioned 4 roles: sales rep, sales engineer, direct response rep, VP or sales manager.
In Product Management, the different roles can come from any of the following:
- VP/Director Product Management
- Technical Product Manager
- Product Manager
- Product Owner
- Product Marketing Manger
- Business Analyst
- Solution Specialist
- User Experience Designer
I will go into this list in a future post, but the point here is that there can be MANY different roles within a single Product Management organization. It will vary from company to company based on the history, culture and political structure in that company. But the focus should always be to ensure the goals of the Product Management team are clearly defined and the team is staffed and structured to achieve those goals. Easier said than done of course, but what other option is there?
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