product management discipline

The Product Management discipline in the world of Big Business

The Product Management discipline’s role and job description is heavily dependent on the industry, organization and the product it’s relevant to. Based on the best practices established over the years, there’s no one-size-fits-all for product management at each organization. However, there are some common themes across all companies that resonate across the board for product managers.

Deal with the Customers:

Understand and define the problem: A product manager’s key responsibility is to understand their customer(s) and the space they operate in. This understanding is developed by continuous interactions with the customers through various channels – surveys, interviews, customer visits, sales feedback, support tickets etc. This lays the foundation for defining the problems that need solving. Based on the prevalence of the problem, there might be a large no. of customers. However, organizations often find themselves in a situation where their biggest or “special” customers have some specific needs that need to be addressed. It’s still a good idea for the product managers to do their due diligence to see if the problem exists on a wider scale and hence, needs to be generalized for a wider adoption of the solution. At times, the customers tend to present the solution in the form of a problem. It is up to the product manager to understand the root cause or the real problem before a solution can be discussed. Once a solution has been defined, the product managers also evangelize the product to their customers or potential new customers with the help of marketing teams.
Create a buy-in for the product roadmap: The outcome of all the customer, market and competitive research, combined with feedback from the sales and on-the-ground teams leads to a laundry list of items that need to be analyzed in-toto, to prioritize and define the scope of the problem and the solution approach. Often, these problems are grouped into themes or initiatives that require the buy-in (and budget) from the top management to begin development. This requires an understanding of the company’s vision and strategic goals and how your initiative aligns with that. Once you have the necessary buy-in, the product managers work towards developing a product roadmap (both short term and long term) that can deliver the maximum value to the customer and the organization in terms of sales wins, NPS score, etc.

Deal with Engineering:

Facilitate solution development: An effective product manager should be as familiar with the finer details of what needs to be built, as with the bigger picture of the problem that is being solved. That is not to say that a product manager is the sole creative force behind the solution. Coming up with a solution is a team effort and the development/engineering team play a crucial part in it. However, a product manager needs to be able to understand the nuances of the solution and if it really solves the identified problem. It is up to the product manager to create a shared understanding of the problem that needs to be solved. Once that is done, a product manager also needs to be available for the engineering team to address any questions that come up, respond to any unexpected roadblocks that come up – some of which may require a pivot or a scope-creep etc. You also need to stay up-to-date with the project progress so that the right stakeholders can be brought in at appropriate times – technical writers, marketing team, sales representatives, customers etc.

Deal with Top Management:

These are the basic tenets of the product management discipline for a successful product and organization. However, based on several factors like company size, the structure and division of these responsibilities could be different. For example: your organization could have specialized products for different industry verticals. In such a case, you might choose to have different product management departments for each of these niche sectors – with little or no overlap. Or, you could have your org structure hierarchy in such a way that certain roles take up some of the functions above. For example – a product manager might be responsible for reviewing and committing the product roadmap with the top management, while business analysts work with the development team for finer details of the implementation and with the marketing and technical writing team to evangelize the solution. For enterprise solution providers, it’s common to have several products grouped under a category (based on product specialization, etc), with product managers responsible for one or more products under the category.

For a product manager coming into a large enterprise, it can be a tough initial few days (or weeks!) trying to understand how their role in the current organization differs from their last. As long as the basic tenets of the product management discipline listed above, are being met – the product management team and the organization is on the right track!

Photo Credit: “Three Structures” / Storebukkebruse / CC BY

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