Archive for November 2012

The Product Management Concept … and Variations in the Wild! Part B

Continued from Part A

As with any concept, the Product Management concept has morphed into various forms in the real world – leading to different approaches and, looking at companies or even an industry as a whole, outcomes.

Businesses make certain trade-offs during the implementation of a concept – especially when there is a rush to emulate / institute a certain pattern. These trade-offs are sometimes made consciously and judiciously, and sometimes driven by urgency and constraints. In any case, over time, we see several variations (mutations?!) of the original idea. Yes, mutations are an integral part of the evolutionary process. But then again, not all mutations lead to a relative or competitive advantage – so it is valuable to be able to tell the difference / evaluate their relative effectiveness!

The graphic below shows some of these variations that are often seen within enterprises. Depending on the route a particular individual or an organization has taken (e.g. starting with a software development background; or a visual design skill set), the Product Manager role shifts to cover (or be centered on) different areas shown on the map. This shifting leads to a different focus, perspective & style – with a corresponding influence on outcomes for the overall process – and the organization.

 

Web Product Management - Cross-functional Collaboration

Place your mouse over the image (hover) to see the original map.
 

Looking at job descriptions and even articles / writings in this field, it becomes evident that this shift is quite common. And perhaps reflective of a lack of clarity – about the original concept, role and skills of Product Management – and its relationship with its close cousins – Product Marketing and what I would call, Production Management.

Perhaps the maps above will help to add to that clarity a little bit. Ultimately, it is the organization’s prerogative to define the Product Manager role (its responsibilities as well as expected skills) – and reap the benefits & results that come from that choice. It is a strategic and consequential decision – and a clear understanding & application of the Product Management concept can help make that a sound decision that maximizes those benefits and results.

Bottom line: Do you have a Production-centric Product Management role or is it centered more in Product Marketing or Design? Is the focus (priority & effort) on the core Product Management tasks (as shown on the map) – and the consequent benefits to the business / organization – getting diminished or heightened as a result?

The Product Management Concept … and Variations in the Wild! Part A

Product Management is a vital process for any organization. Here is a ‘map’ of the product management world showing the different areas / disciplines / skill sets that come together to achieve the overall goal of creating & launching superlative products & services in the marketplace.

These are not isolated islands / regions of expertise – there is a lot of cross-border exchange that goes on (along with some of the usual cross-border issues perhaps!) It is generally understood that these areas need to work closely and collaboratively to achieve the most fundamental goal of the business / organization.

The map clarifies the WHAT (needs to be done) more than the WHO and HOW. [We'll talk about the WHO and its importance further down.] It is helpful, for all involved, to keep an eye on the “wide-angle” or “zoomed-out” view of the map i.e. maintain a clear understanding of the distinct tasks & skills that fall within each area; their respective challenges and contributions; and how they can influence and work together in a productive way.

 

Web Product Management - Cross-functional Collaboration

Place your mouse over the image (hover) to view the Product Management Cluster / Core Group.
 

There is an aspect I would like to highlight here. Even though there are cases where an individual or a team may happen to have a high level of proficiency (and take on responsibilities) in more than one area (the Da Vinci artist / scientist type), in general, each of these areas represent a distinct skill set. And importantly, a certain perspective / mindset – that often comes from years of working in a particular area – or developing a particular competency.

[Without going in to too much detail here, one can readily appreciate variants such as - detail / big-picture oriented; divergent / convergent thinking; process / outcome orientation; etc. These are not mutually exclusive by definition - but certain functions (and individuals) may tilt a bit more in one direction compared to another. A person can, with an appropriate investment of time and effort, (not just a change of job title!), learn and transition to (or add) another skill set (e.g. from writing code to gathering requirements; or going from being a task & resource manager to facilitating brainstorming sessions and envisioning (not just gathering) new requirements / features) - but the point is that these are distinct skill sets.]

In Part B of this article (continued in the next post), I discuss the phenomenon seen quite commonly in the IT / Software industry – where the definition of the Product Management role seems to be conflated with either what I have shown as the Production Management area above or Product Marketing.

Yes, over time, the boundaries between the areas often get blurred or dissolved – sometimes deliberately and productively – and sometimes not. This blurring could happen at an individual level – e.g. a person wearing many hats; or at the team or organizational level. It is important to appreciate that blurring is not the same as artfully combining – as with colors in a painting or ingredients in a culinary masterpiece.

Like a Master Chef choosing and mixing ingredients to create the best combination (not just conceptually, but in reality – as in an actual, produced version – albeit with the help of his kitchen staff / team), the person in the true / archetypal Product Manager role  – and the CEO, CMO, Business Owner setting up the role – need to have not only a clear understanding but also a full appreciation of these ingredients (shown on the map). That sets the stage for the Product Manager to do justice to the core product management tasks (appropriate priority and effort) – while remaining an effective coordinator of the other areas – leveraging and balancing their inputs and contributions optimally – while keeping the organization’s vision, mission, and marketing goals (which include a satisfied customer / user) as the ultimate drivers.

Bottom line:  A. There are 3 PMs in the map – and while they are all important, PMPMPM – in terms of skills, mindset, perspective. B. Use the map to evaluate (on an ongoing basis) whether all the key areas are getting an appropriate level of attention, priority and resources.

 

More in Part B in the next post.

Related Post: See also Big-Picture perspective for strategic Product Management