We are faced with decisions and trade-offs on a daily basis. Moreover, we are challenged to ensure that product features, target markets, and technologies align with overall business and strategic objectives. Projects are advanced based not only on technical merits but also sales, revenue, and profit forecasts.
Product management is one of the most strategic yet least understood business functions in many organizations. The roles and expectations of product management vary considerably from one organization to another. Even within the same company, product management is often carried out in different ways.
This lack of agreement on what product management is may also cause role confusion and miscommunication inside the organization, leading to sub-optimal performance. Foremost role of product management is to help bring process and business savvy to the creation and delivery of products.
Play out some scenarios and you will see what is happening around you:
- Traditional consumer companies have always considered product management to be a marketing role, which is why it seems to make sense to put product management there. And it does make sense–if marketing is defining and delivering products. Alas, many technology companies consider the term “marketing” to be synonymous with “marketing communications.” So if the Marketing department is only about delivering products but not defining them, product managers should be elsewhere.
- For technology companies, particularly those with enterprise or B2B products, the product management job is very technical. This is why we see many product managers reporting to Development or Engineering. However, we’ve seen a shift away from this in recent years. The problem appears to be technical product managers spend so much time writing requirements, they don’t have time to visit the market to better understand the problems their products are designed to solve. They spend so much time building products that they’re not equipped to help deliver them to the market.
- Very few product managers find themselves in a Sales (or Sales & Marketing) department. It seems clear product managers in Sales will spend all of their time supporting sales people with demos and presentations. The product managers become the sales engineers.
In effect, subordinating product management relegates it to a support role for the primary goal of the department & product managers end up being project managers and Development gofers.
My passing thought would be that it would never matter where product management reports. What matters is how product management is made more accountable and that would mean trying to answer , what does “success” look like for a product manager?