Product management plays a vital role in the digital age: it enables innovation and growth. It’s therefore not surprising that more and more companies establish product management groups—including retailers, publishers, and banks that traditionally don’t employ product managers. But successfully introducing product management is not easy: I have seen a number of businesses struggle with this challenge. This post provides five tips to help you succeed with introducing product management to your company.
1 Establish a Clear Vision
Establish a clear vision for introducing a product management group and explore why your company would benefit from it. There are a number of advantages such a group can offer, including being able to launch more products, serving the right markets and segments, providing the right features, making better product decisions faster, aligning the stakeholders more effectively, and establishing clear roles and responsibilities. But the core value proposition of product management is enabling growth:
A product manager is responsible for making and keeping a product successful. This includes taking an idea for a new product or feature and working with development, marketing, and sales (and other business groups) to make it available to the customers and users, as well as killing a product if product success cannot be achieved. Without qualified product managers and a dedicated product management function, product decisions are not made effectively in my experience; time, energy, and money are wasted. In other words, product managers are key to achieving sustained organic growth.
2 Secure Management Buy-in
Introducing a new product management group is not trivial. Instead, it requires organisational changes that have to be supported by executive management. To put it differently, if the executives don’t buy into creating a product function and if they don’t sponsor—and to some extent—lead the effort, then the chances of establishing the new group are slim.
To get executive management on your side, help them understand how a product management group would benefit the company. But don’t stop there: address how the managers would benefit from the change and how it would impact their jobs. The personal benefits can include higher salaries (assuming that these are linked to the company performance and that the new group will increase growth) and reduced workload by allowing the executives to focus on the business strategy.
This requires, however, that the executives are willing to grant decision-making authority to the product managers and trust them to manage the company’s products. Management still retains some control, though, by sponsoring new and existing products; product roadmaps and key performance indicators help the managers understand how the products are performing and decide how much funding they should receive.
Finally, help the executive team decide where product management should sit within the organisation. I have seen product management groups embedded in marketing and in development, for example. But I prefer product management as a separate, major business function that is equal to marketing, sales, and development. This recognises the importance of the group and helps the product managers do a great job. The head of product should therefore be a member of the executive team.
3 Involve the People Whose Jobs Change
Introducing product management will impact a number of individuals and departments. For example, if the sales group currently decides which features a release provides, then the group will be significantly affected: The product managers will now make feature and release decisions.
People are likely to resist the necessary changes if they don’t understand why they are necessary, or feel that they are forced on them and that their concerns and needs are not taken into account. I therefore recommend that you involve the key people affected by introducing a product function and collaborate with them.
If the sales group loses decision-making power, for example, then talk to them and listen to their concerns. Show the salespeople how they can take advantage from the changes and how they can continue to influence the product and ensure that their needs are taken into account. For instance, the sales group is better able to focus on their actual job, and they can shape the product by attending product strategy and roadmap workshops and sprint review meetings.
4 Get the Right People on Board
A while back I worked with a company that had just established a new product management group. While the newly appointed product managers were very enthusiastic, most of them lacked important product management skills. As a consequence, they struggled to fill their roles effectively and failed to earn the respect and trust from their colleagues in marketing, sales, and development.
To help your newly formed group get off to a good start, make sure that the right people are on board. This often requires hiring a new head of product who has the right product management experience and leadership skills. If that’s difficult, then you may want to consider employing a temporary head of product to kick start the group.
Similarly, you may want to hire experienced product managers to inject the necessary product management know-how into the organisation. But don’t exclusively rely on new people. Ask current employees to join the new group. Marketers, salespeople, developers, project managers, and business analysts can make great product managers if they receive the right support and training. Staffing the group with new and existing employees ensures that product management has the right skills and knows enough about the product portfolio and the company.
Don’t forget to identify the right training and development measures for the new product managers. For example, pairing newly hired product managers and existing employees so that they manage a product jointly is a great way to help the individuals learn from each other.
5 Sustain the Change
With the right people on board and the product management group ready to start working, you have achieved a major milestone. But fully establishing product management usually requires more work: The initial introduction does not always fully succeed and people often fall back into their old habits and roles. I find it not uncommon, for instance, that executive management still wants to make strategic product decisions and that sales wants to determine the features of a release.
You should implement the necessary measures to permanently establish product management. This includes working with executive management and human resources to determine the right qualifications for the roles, create a training and development program including an on-boarding procedure for new product managers, and establish a career path for product managers. As Winston Churchill said, “to improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often.”