NOTE: The following is a guest post by Shardul Mehta. If you want to submit your own guest post, click here for more information.
In my previous post, I talked about the challenges of introducing Product Management into an established organization. Here I share hard learned lessons on how to avoid common pitfalls and start laying the foundation for long-term success.
Start with why
If you’re an organization looking to bring on product management, start with the most fundamental of all questions:
Seriously, why do you really need product management? What problem are you expecting it to solve? Innovation? Improved product development processes? Better requirements writing? Writing feature lists? Being the demo guy?
The why question is critical because it sets the expectation for the value Product Management is expected to bring to the organization. It also crystallizes whether there are ways to solve the problems the organization faces through its current structure. Perhaps the existing departments could take on various Product Management functions, or could be re-structured, and appropriate processes can be developed around them to ensure continuous innovation. If this is not possible, then perhaps introducing a Product Management department does makes sense.
Prepare the organization
The fact is product management is a disruptive force, a radical change to the way the organization conducts its business. The introduction of a centralized product management department will do just that: centralize many functions that were previously diversified. Senior leadership must think carefully if this is something they want to take the organization through, and must prepare to shepherd each of the other departments through their change curves.
Who is your first hire? And where do they sit?
A senior product management individual will bring the experience and know-how to take on a more leadership role, quickly formulate the product strategy and develop a roadmap, be better able to articulate the value of product management, and when the time comes, leverage their personal network to bring in additional product management talent.
Understandably, though, the company may not have the budget to hire a seasoned executive. It may also be in more of a crisis mode where it needs someone to step in to pick up activities that are getting dropped. In either case, the company may decide to opt for a more junior product manager. The question becomes where to place this individual in the organization. Because it doesn’t make sense for this person to report to the execs, they are typically put into marketing, sales or engineering.
The dangers with this approach are well documented – they become a support role for the primary function of that department, providing content for marketing materials, doing product demos for sales, or writing requirements and project managing deliverables for engineering. No time to do the critical work of understanding market problems and formulating the product strategy.
Who to hire and where they sit are critical decisions to ensure long term success. I once worked for a company that rotated through five directors and seventeen Product Managers in just six years. A total of twenty two. Twenty two!
Ensure senior sponsorship
Ensure there is someone in a senior executive position who is willing to be the sponsor and champion for product management. I’m talking someone at the SVP+ level. In my experience, this has the greatest impact on product management’s long-term success. You need someone at that level to evangelize the value that product management brings to the organization, and provide the necessary air support when political attacks threaten to disrupt it in its formative stages.
Do you feel lucky? Well… do ya?
So far I’ve talked from the organization’s point of view. What if you’re the first product management professional into the company? The Product Management Journal has some great tips on introducing product management into a startup. I expound on those to encompass any organization:
Clarify your role
Because expectations may vary widely, it’s important to clarify your role upfront. For example, if you’re joining a startup, an enterprise with a visionary CEO, or a company with established lines of business, the CEO or line of business may want to continue to act as the product visionary and retain control over the product direction. In this case, product management may play a more tactical role, working more closely with engineering on product releases, perhaps supporting marketing and sales activities.
You need to clarify how your performance will be judged and reconcile it with the scope of the role. If you’re expected to play a more tactical role, yet deliver product innovation, or if you’re measured on the number of defects and customer complaints, yet the role is about market insight and setting the product direction, these are signs of expectations being incongruous with the role.
As stated earlier, product management is an agent of change, as it changes existing business processes and takes decision making and responsibilities away from current owners. This creates uncertainty. To the extent reasonable, talk to everyone. Understand their expectations. Share these findings with your hiring bosses to clarify expectations and the role, and ensure they are congruous. Doing this has the added benefit of helping you establish key relationships and build your credibility.
Ensure senior sponsorship
Same as discussed above, except now from the individual’s lens. Regardless of whether you are coming in as the VP or a rank-and-file product manager, be sure there is a true believer at the senior executive level.
Look, you simply can’t do everything. If you’ve done your homework on the role and expectations fronts, identify what you think are the most pressing problems, share them with your stakeholders, gain their buy-in, and focus relentlessly on the top priorities. Lower level priorities and new problems will of course crop up, but at least you’ll either be able to fall back on the agreement you reached or have a constructive conversation on re-assessing priorities based on new realities. This gives you a much greater chance to get things done while keeping your credibility intact.
Introducing product management into an organization can be fraught with ambiguity, unreasonable expectations, and threats from every corner. But with foresight and planning, it is possible to set it up for long term success. Either way, it’s going to be roller coaster. So saddle up, buckle in, and get ready for a wild ride!
Tweet this: Introducing Product Management into an Organization – part 2 – http://wp.me/pXBON-3aj #prodmgmt #innovation #career
Shardul Mehta is a simple product guy whose passion for great digital experiences is only exceeded by his love for chicken curry. He is the Founder of ProductCamp DC, and his blog can be found here.