Product Management Organizations

Dan Lewis of Product Acuity, a technology product management consulting firm in Texas, recently posted this note on product management organizations: "Product management is not just a title or position; it is a critical business function. Think about how a start-up gets going. A few people with a product concept (and thus, defined requirements) start a business. Already having the product concept, their immediate needs are not product management but three critical functions: 1) someone to oversee funding, spending, and the legal aspects of structure, 2) someone to build the product, and 3) someone to sell the product. Everything else is luxury, and the founders serve as the product managers. Therefore, the product management function does indeed exist; that they simply do not need a specialized position dedicated to that role. "For product management to be successful, they need to be part of the overall team. When such collaborative environments and attitudes are truly achieved, issues with organizational structures vaporize."

Dan makes some good points here: the product management function exists in every company, and, if a dedicated product management role exists, it must be an integral part of the team. There is a belief in many managers that there must be one "right" way to organize. But, as Peter Drucker said, each company is a unique organism that needs to find an organization that generates the right results. Organization structure is not particularly relevant. Product management is effective (or not) regardless of the organizational structure. The product management function in small companies is provided by the president and the senior executive team. As a company gets larger, the senior executive team becomes embroiled in company-level issues and typically creates a formal product management role to watch the products at the product level. Medium to large companies achieve scalability by creating more staff roles. We expand Development to include project managers, QA, customer support reps, and others, so that developers can focus on product creation. We surround Sales with support as well. It doesn't make sense for all sales people to create their own leads and sales tools; one focused group of marketing specialists can do it right for the entire sales channel so that Sales can focus on getting products to the customer. And typically we charter product managers to look at the product horizontally across the organization, acting as the senior executive team's product-level champion.

Product Management and Marketing departments are about scalability--few supporting many. Instead of everyone "doing their own thing, " we use specialists in different areas to create tools for many to use.

Steve Johnson

Steve Johnson

Steve Johnson was a founding instructor at Pragmatic Institute, a role he held for more than 15 years before he left to start Under10 Playbook. In his return to Pragmatic Institute, Steve supports the complete learning path for product teams, ensuring they are fully armed for success. 

Over the course of his career, Steve has helped thousands of companies and tens of thousands of product professionals implement product management processes. He has worked in the high-tech arena since 1981, rising through the ranks from product manager to chief marketing officer. Steve has experience in technical, sales and marketing management positions at companies that specialize in both hardware and software. In addition, he is an author, speaker and advisor on product strategy and product management.


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