One of the most common questions I get asked about with respect to my work is about product management. It’s a discipline that most are unfamiliar with. What is product management, anyway?
Given that my consulting practice is centered around the art and science of product management, I thought it would be a good idea to try and explain it here.
In today’s post, I’m going to explain what product management is, what the benefits are, and what issues an organization can run into when they don’t have proper product management in place.
What is product management?
Product management is the application of management tools to guide a product from initial concept all the way to retirement in order to help an organization reach its strategic goals.
In other words, product management is about making sure that an organization creates the right products in the first place and ensures that they are developed, launched, supported and discontinued in ways that actually make sense for the organization. Product managers make sure that their products are profitable and are good fits with the organization and its strategic direction.
A product’s product manager is the person who oversees everything related to a product, keeps track of its performance, links all the other functions that work on the product, and integrates their work.
A good way to think of product managers is as though they are heading up their own small companies within the larger organization. Some people have called them “mini-CEOs”.
It’s also important to note that product management applies equally to high- and low-technology products, and to service delivery as well. No matter what the actual product is, product management can be applied.
The Value of Product Management
There are several important benefits to having product managers in an organization:
- The organization knows who is “in charge” of a given product
- Disputes with respect to a given product can be arbitrated easily
- There is strategic alignment between product development and the organization as a whole
- Products are more likely to be profitable
- Products are able to be strategically retired in order to make room for the next generation
- The organization has “a way” of processing new ideas and dealing with competitive forces
- Continuous improvement becomes engrained in the organization
- Development teams are able to focus on the most important tasks (those that are assigned by the product manager)
- Sales and marketing teams have a single point of contact for ideas, opportunities, and issues
- Products can have continuity of oversight when being passed between different functional departments and as it passes through its lifecycle stages
- Product management provides a channel through which a company’s strategy can be actively applied and reflected through its products
The benefits of having a product manager at the helm of a given product are analogous to having a CEO leading the company. Could a given company continue operating without a CEO? For sure. But not for long. The same can be said for a product lacking a product manager. Maintaining the status quo without leadership is no problem. Issues arise only when the environment changes. Unfortunately, change is the only constant for today’s businesses. Somebody absolutely needs to be in charge of making decisions with respect to how to deal with that inevitable change.
What Happens Without Product Management
Without product management, some serious problems can arise in an organization. Most importantly, it will be very difficult for there to be strategic alignment between the organization and its products. Without this alignment, an organization’s ability to actually execute a given strategy will be seriously impaired. Imagine trying to be a cost leader in your industry without someone in charge of making sure that the products you produce are the most cost-effective they could be. That would be highly problematic.
Another issue is that products will not perform as well financially. Talented product managers are able to keep track of how their products perform over time with respect to revenue generated, the cost to manufacture, and all sorts of other valuable metrics. They understand the industry and how their products fit into it. Without this oversight, it can be very difficult for an organization to optimize a product’s financial performance.
Finally, without product management, product development and maintenance becomes an ad hoc process. Products change reactively as opposed to proactively. This can be costly in terms of revenues lost, shrinking market share, and slower time-to-market. A solid product manager can help make sense of which opportunities to chase and which to ignore. They can also help the company to stand firm with respect to longer-term investments when it might be tempting to chase a quick win instead.
Product managers steady the ship, keep it pointed in the right direction, and ensure steady progress.
Want to Learn More? (Bonus Content)
If you’d like to dig a bit more into the basics of product management, click the button below to download our “Product Management 101 Resource Guide” for free. The guide provides our top five resources for getting started and learning more about product management.