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Saturday, November 6, 2010

Who is best fit for product manager’s position – IT DEPENDS

I have been part of discussions on this topic for enough and more times. Few suggest a strong back ground in technology while some emphasis on business acumen and marketing background a must for PMs job. I remember my discussion with a senior executive of a reputed Indian telecom giant who says, “It depends on product type, market and key deliverables that are expected from PM”. And why should not I agree to him, he has been pioneer in setting up successful PM team on more than one occasion. And then I sit back and say, ok now here I am talking about technology products for enterprise customers and expect my product manager to conceptualize product, drive engineering, do market research, talk to potential customers, evaluate competition, define go-to-market strategy, train my staff, help sales and accounts team in closing the deal, talk to analyst etc…. Wow too many things to do, and do I expect my product manager to do all these? Strange but that’s what I see PMs doing when I go through CVs of stalwarts in the domain.

I then go back to one of my mentors and ask him the key deliverables I should be expecting from my PM who is working on an enterprise software product. And I get a prompt reply, “well it depends on the organization structure and functional departments that you have, marketing, strategies, sales, engineering etc and where does your Product team come into the picture. Is it part of marketing, engineering, strategies or an autonomous department?” Now from my experience I have seen Product team as part of these functional departments at some or other time. Personally, I have worked as PM as sibling of marketing, strategies and engineering departments. Also, I have worked in Product group as an autonomous body having a VP reporting directly into top executive team. I started scratching my head thinking of an ideal organization structure, and I soon realized that it’s waste doing so as I as PM would definitely like to be part of an autonomous team which has a strong and long stick.

So then I go back to my mentor and say, “Well I prefer Product group to be autonomous and not as part of any other core group like marketing, engineering etc. Anyways this my thought but could you tell me the best fit position for a Product group?” Reply this time was equally prompt as it was last time, "Well, it depends. It depends on the life cycle of your product(s), and/or your business. Are you at a stage wherein you have identified the pain point that you wish to resolve, or you are still doing it. May be you have done that but you now wish to conceptualize a product and then work on architectural aspect first, may be block diagrams first. Or you have done that too and a engineered product is ready for launch, and now if you say that you already have a product which is in transformation from early days to maturity days than the answer would be different. So where do you stand?"

Now this started giving me feeling that I am banging my head on a wall. But does answer to this really matter before I decide roles and responsibilities of PM or identify who is best fit for that job. And yes it does, from what I learned and experienced, Product group's proximity to engineering should be high during startup phase, and its proximity to marketing department is critical during initial research and growth stages of Product. How about the maturity stage of a Product, this is the time when you really don’t want to mess-up too much, steady releases, paying customers, and conquered market are hard earned. So let’s get back to brainstorming session. Where does my Product team best fit for an matured product line. And you know the answer, "Well, it depends on complexity of the product, revenue and organization size." Yes, so what’s the conclusion other than it depends, oh well it depends on what it depends to decide the Product team positioning.

Ok well, so if I need to summarize, this ‘it depends’ discussion in manner that this is well understood on best fit Product Manager candidate and Product team positioning, I would say ‘well, IT DEPENDS’.


  1. I think you're right in your observations but it doesn't have to depend. When you look back at the poject management space it used to depend but now PMI has locked in what a corporate PMO should look like. Many orgs try to tune it but they often come back to the reference definition.

    Recently Steven Haines published a new book called Managing Product Management and he offers up one of the first reference definition for how to establish a product function and how to recruit and management product managers.

  2. アーニー Thanks for your thoughts. It will be interesting to see if product role can be locked just like a project role, maybe or may not be. I am sure the role will mature along with industry.