by Patrick Tickle

A product management manifesto – what it is and why you need it

Nov 14, 2017
IT Leadership

It’s time for IT to take a product management approach.

11 management
Credit: Thinkstock

For decades technology organizations have utilized, with varying degrees of success, a wide variety of techniques to “align to the business.” With digitization in every product and service – every customer experience we deliver, we are one enterprise with one goal. There is no front office or back office anymore. We need to get beyond the idea of disparate parts that need to be brought together.

Gartner agrees. In fact, in a recent report, “Words Matter: Use the Right Language When Developing Strategy,” Noah Rosenstein, Heather Colella, Richard Hunter propose, “This common interpretation of the term ‘IT strategy’ creates a mindset that IT is somehow separate from the business, and therefore needs its own strategy.”

In this age of digital transformation, when we are all obsessed with getting closer to the customer, breaking down distribution channels, making products more digital and smarter, product management is imperative. And while it’s not the typical role, it’s imperative that IT is part of product innovation and development.

According to McKinsey, the growing importance of data in decision making is responsible for the expanding role of the product manager. “The emergence of the mini-CEO product manager is driven by a number of changes in technology, development methodologies, and the ways in which consumers make purchases. Together, they make a strong case for a well-rounded product manager who is more externally oriented and spends less time overseeing day-to-day engineering execution, while still commanding the respect of engineering.”

Let’s get into it. What does it mean to have a product manager mentality?

I’ll share with you Planview’s product manager philosophy, distilled into a 10-point manifesto, with the first five shared with you today. This represents close to 100 years of collective product management experience by the leaders that put it together. It’s our top 10 list of what being a product manager should mean. It represents, in my opinion, a very good framework for product management and things that could be applied to any organization that’s going through a digital transformation initiative. Spoiler alert: that’s all of us.

1. You are the internal champion and external voice for your product/product area

You have ultimate responsibility for the success of your product with no direct authority over the resources required to create that success.

Every product manager has the ultimate responsibility for the success of the product with no direct authority over the resources required to create that success. Product management is inherently a virtual leadership position. It’s a tough job. You must be able to influence and lead the charge, rally organizations to your vision and drive success from concept all the way to the marketplace. There aren’t that many jobs like this in any organization where the scope of responsibility is so broad, but with so little direct organizational authority.

And product managers must work across a vast array of internal and external constituents. Internally is working with engineering and development, sales, manufacturing, and senior executives. Externally you are the voice to customers, prospects, and industry analysts and experts. And your interactions span the water cooler to the main stage at industry events and user conferences.

But, when you embrace this notion and see it successfully implemented, product managers become one of the most powerful and integral roles in your organization. They become organizational glue that brings strategy to life every day, that people come to rely on to move the organization forward.

2. You serve sales and development as primary customers

You should be a trusted resource to both organizations and if both need your assistance at the same time, sales wins the tie. Sales should view you as the defacto product expert.

A product manager needs to be viewed as the trusted resource to both sales organization and the technical/development organization at any moment in time. They understand the roadmap but more importantly, they understand the customer. They have the ability to rationalize and prioritize, but at any moment in time, should clarify and hold the vision for where the priorities sit and where the customer experience needs to be at any point in the future. You’re constantly in this battle of balancing revenue (sales) versus product (development). It’s endlessly iterating between the sales objectives of the company and optimizing the mid-to-long term for the product – ensuring one the company’s most precious resources, it’s development teams, are bringing the most value to the customer and creating competitive differentiation.

This nexus of forces again makes the job hard, but it has to happen. Insulating development teams from the market is never a good thing. I have met too many product owners (see Agile) that use product vision as an excuse for ignoring competition, sales teams, and sometimes even the customer. The product manager crosses all constituents which raises expectations but also potential for success.

For IT organizations going through digital transformation, it is about getting out in front and being closer to revenue and helping drive ultimately customer acquisition and customer experience and not just innovating for the sake of innovating. This is about innovating for the customer. Get closer to the customer and you’ll get closer to a great product the customer actually needs.

3. Your job is a combination of inbound (product management) and outbound (product marketing)

Expect to spend at least 30 percent of your time on outbound activities knowing that this percentage will increase with experience.

Product managers are predominantly inbound focused, i.e., they live very close to the development team, they protect their capacity to maintain stories of velocity and backlog for the product team.

Product managers need a balance, a healthy balance of inbound product development activity with outbound customer market competition and sales facing activity. Having that mix creates strong product managers that build great products that hit customer needs, drive revenue.

But it is equally important that early on for product managers to learn skills to engage the external world. Learn how to describe their product to a user, write blog posts and press releases, communicate the value and uniqueness of the product and team they represent. Champion is an important word and being out in front of your product is key to its success.

4. You are responsible for defining the positioning of any new capabilities delivered in your product/product area

Be able to tell the story, crush your competitors, demo your product, write first draft press releases and enable sales.

Core to being the champion for any product or service is the ability to be the fundamental source of the value of the product. No one knows why the product was built the way it was, who is was built for, and why it is so great (or flawed) than the product manager. Being able to articulate the essence of your products is a critical product management skill set. No one will share the same passion for product than a product manager that lived through the blood, sweat, and tears that went into bringing it to life.

Positioning is the art of translating that product essence into a message that resonates internally and externally. Great positioning inspires customers to use a product, motivates sales people to want to sell it, and strikes fear into the competition that your product is the market leader.

5. You are the expert on the competition for your product/product area

You are responsible for understanding industry trends and the competitive landscape today, next quarter and two years from now.

Clearly one of the themes of this manifesto is the required 360-degree view of the product manager across a broad range of constituents and factors. One of the most important facets of this 360-degree view is knowing the competition. We obviously live in a hyper-fast moving, technology-driven environment where new products and services, and hence competitors, are coming to life every day. The product manager must have their finger on the pulse of the competition at all times.

The unique perspective of the product manager makes it imperative that they are the source of competitive analysis. Understand how to compete today, in three months, six months, and a year from now. Know your competition as well as you know yourself.

Digital transformation is about the convergence of product innovation and technology. Product managers at the center of this transformation. It’s a unique role that needs to go beyond developmental aspects to drive that next big thing, to drive creative development, to deliver and anticipate what the customer will need.

If IT organizations can embrace a product management approach, focusing on customers as well as technology, they will be able to define and drive business strategy, not just support it.

Stay tuned for the final five points.