Introducing Product Management into your company

If you’re considering introducing product management into your organization, or are the first product management employee hired into a company, then tread carefully! Having done this more times than I care to recall, I can attest there are fewer professional situations more fraught with ambiguity, unreasonable expectations, threats from every corner, and high likelihood of failure for the Product Manager and the organization.

Why would a successful business decide to introduce product management into its organization at all?

In one company I had joined, the business had been extremely successful selling variations of essentially the same product for years and years. But with potential new business drying up, the execs decided the company needed to be more “innovative”, and their answer was to create a Product Management department.

Other reasons could be:

  • With everyone in the company focused on marketing, selling, customer service, managing operations, hiring, and a hundred other things, the organization finds no one is focused on growing the product portfolio.
  • OR… the product portfolio may have grown like wild fire, and now there are multiple versions of the product, causing customer confusion and inefficiencies within the organization. Time to consolidate.
  • The product has become so “feature rich” that sales and marketing no longer know how to position the product to customers, customers cannot be serviced efficiently, and delivery dates keep slipping as each additional piece of functionality adds exponential risk to development and testing.
  • A services company is trying to become a product-focused one, and after lots of wasted time and money realizes they need product management.

For any of these reasons, the company executives decide its time to bring in product management.

Buyer Beware

Although these situations may seem ideal to introduce product management, they abound with pitfalls for the unaware. It’s important for both company execs and Product Management to be mindful of numerous land mines:

Unfounded unreasonably high expectations. Product Management is suddenly looked upon as the silver bullet answer to all the company’s problems.

Not all expectations are created equal. Expectations are also different across each department:

  • Engineering/IT expects Product Management to write requirements, ensure zero scope changes, project manage the delivery, conduct UAT, manage defect resolution, and make seamless release go/no go calls.
  • Sales expects Product Management to be available for every sales call, produce sales collateral, do product demos, commit to product features that will help them close the next big deal with a guarantee to have them all available by the date they already promised to the client.
  • Marketing expects Product Management to provide the content for marketing materials or, worse, wants nothing at all to do with Product Management.
  • Execs expect Product Management to come up with the “next big thing”, have a solid business case behind it, deliver it “on time”, and ensure it makes a ton of money.

What does Product Management do? Most times folks don’t understand the role of Product Management and the value it brings to the organization. Let’s see…

  • Salespeople close deals.
  • Marketing runs campaigns, advertising, promotions, and events.
  • Account Management / Customer Success manages client relationships.
  • Operations manages business processes.
  • Customer Service runs the call center.
  • IT takes care of “all that technical stuff” the rest of the organization would rather not be bothered about.

Pretty straightforward. So what exactly does Product Management do?

And here’s the fun part: even the executives of the company — the same folks who decided to introduce Product Management — may not be clear on what exactly it does or how to measure its value!

Why do we even need Product Management? Infinitely worse is when folks secretly question the decision to bring in product management. This is often more prevalent at the department level than the executive level.

The thinking goes this way: “We’ve been successful all these years without it, so why do we need it now?”

Product Management represents a disruption to tradition and the status quo. And so, it can be seen as a threat. We humans typically don’t embrace change so readily. In one company, IT had historically written the business requirements and Sales always went directly to IT and so was more than happy with this arrangement. When Product Management came into the picture, the battle lines were drawn!

The scapegoat syndrome: A common way for other departments to deal with the perceived threat is simply to blame Product Management for anything and everything wrong with the product.

Suddenly Product Management is getting blamed for deals not getting closed, because the product does not have the features desired by the last “hot” prospect.

If the product has holes, Product Management is called to task for writing poor requirements.

If customers don’t respond to marketing, Product Management is accused of not understanding the customer.

If customers report bugs, Product Management is asked to immediately identify fixes.

Product Management becomes everyone’s favorite punching bag. It’s amazing how fast this happens.

The bottleneck syndrome: Somewhat related to the scapegoat syndrome, except this one is often self-inflicted.

The new Product Manager declares, “Product Management owns the product.” And sure enough, soon he or she does indeed own everything to do with the product.

All decisions, all issues, are swiftly sent to the Product Manager, who quickly gets swamped with putting out one fire after the next.

Pretty soon, no department is getting the support it expects, the backlog piles up, delivery timeframes get jeopardized, the execs are still waiting on the product strategy, and everyone is pointing to Product Management as the bottleneck.

It’s a sucky place to be.

Eyes Wide Open

So before you introduce Product Management into your organization, or sign up as the first product management employee, be mindful of these traps.

Have you ever been one of the first product management employees hired into an organization? Please share your story!

This post was also published on OnProductManagement.net and is part of a two-part series. Read part 2 here.