President, Actuation Consulting
Author, Take Charge Product Management
There’s something amorphous about the product manager role.
At a product’s inception the role is often handled by the CEO who typically delegates aspects of this responsibility to others within the organization - while never quite letting go.
As the organization begins to scale the role of product manager becomes more formalized. The CEO can no longer invest the necessary time to nurture the product to the degree that’s required for future success and this is typically the point where the organization creates the new role.
The odd thing about being a product manager is that the role changes based upon a company’s stage of growth. Startup product managers are “jacks of all trades” with an emphasis on hands-on responsibility for the full spectrum of product management lifecycle* activities ranging from nurturing the early stage product to successful product launch.
Mid-sized organizations start to see value in more rigorous process definition in order to efficiently scale. This requires a single-minded emphasis on improving and extending the product via continuous enhancement and investment. The product manager has access to more resources and support and typically gets stretched very wide, often too wide. Specialization starts to take hold.
Finally, large organizations require that product managers not only cover the product management lifecycle but understand the economic value of partnerships, acquisition targeting, and divestitures to maintain required growth rates. As you can see, each stage of growth emphasizes a different mix of skills.
In the face of these growth phase challenges product managers and product owners rarely succeed alone. They have to rely heavily on their core and extended product teams. Product managers are the only parties that stay with the product throughout all the phases of the product management lifecycle from a product’s conception to its ultimate retirement. A fact that was confirmed in last year’s Study of Product Team Performance.
In fact, 50% of survey respondents indicated that this was the case. The next most likely role to stay with the product was the lead engineer (12% of the total responses). However, just because product managers and owners bring singular focus to the product through all of its life phases does not mean that they can succeed without a broad base of support.
A product manager’s primary mission is to optimize results at each phase of the product management lifecycle. This requires that product managers focus on the creation and sustaining of value as the product progresses through each of the unique challenges represented by the lifecycle phases.
Achieving fully realized value requires the support of others. In fact, it requires the support of MANY others.
Product professionals provide horizontal leadership for the product as it progresses through the product management lifecycle phases. Consider the amount of core and extended team members that this entails. They’re not simply managing the product development lifecycle aspects - but the product lifecycle phases as well.
This means that almost all the employees in an organization are touched by the product manager. In fact, if we stacked them up into columns the amount of people that support the product in most organizations would far outnumber the amount of sales people and marketing staff or the shared services functions of general administration.
Product managers can’t succeed alone. They need to have a strong set of wide-ranging cross-functional skills and they must fully integrate into the organization and engage with core and extended team members exceptionally well. In fact, this is why we developed our annual Study of Product Team Performance.
This year we have 13 professional organizations supporting this unique cross-industry effort. We encourage you to share your experiences as part of a product team and tell us what’s working and what could be improved. (You can do so by clicking here.)
After all, we succeed or fail together and each of us plays an important role in achieving success.
Greg Geracie is the author of Take Charge Product Management©, the Editor-in-Chief of The Guide to the Product Management and Marketing Body of Knowledge (ProdBOK®), and an Adjunct Professor at DePaul University’s College of Computing and Digital Media.