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Is product management being marginalized in your organization?

September 1st, 2009 · 3 Comments

In the past few weeks, I keep hearing the same complaint from hard-working and stressed-out product managers: product management is being marginalized in their companies.

Case #1: The company is run by sales people. It’s extremely deal driven. The company is doing well. Closing deals. Sales people are becoming more powerful as a result of their stellar performance. Instead of talking to product management about individual customer requests, sales people are going directly to engineers to customize the product so that they can close the deal. The deal driven focus is driving product management crazy.

Case #2: The VP of engineering just left a start-up company. Another senior technical manager really wants to get the VP of Engineering job. He wants to shine and prove to the company that he can run the engineering organization. Instead of working with product management, he is directly talking to sales to gather requirements, and get his engineers to ship products. He wants to show that he is a doer who gets things done. Product managers couldn’t stop him because he has access to the development resources.

Case #3: In a Fortune 500 enterprise software company, the software QA team did a very poor job to test the product. Product Managers are asked by the VP of product management to fill in and test the product thoroughly. The VP of Product Management didn’t understand the there was a problem with the QA team. And she didn’t listen. As a result, Product Manager is spending a significant amount of their time on testing the product, while the development team is writing their own requirements.

In all three cases, product managers are not doing what they’re supposed to. They recognize the problems. But, because of corporate politics, they’re having a hard time to do the right thing.

According to Pragmatic Marketing, the #1 Pragmatic Marketing rule is “if product management doesn’t do its job, the other departments will fill the void.”

What would you do to address the problems?

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Excellent resources:

Tags: Frustration@Work · Product Management

3 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Steve Johnson // Sep 3, 2009 at 6:15 pm

    Good points all. It's often an issue of confidence.

    Product managers should be the champions of the business of the product but, you know, just this once, I'll help out sales/development/QA/marketing/whoever. But once becomes “you did it last time” and now the product manager is stuck in tactical mode. Meanwhile, the president says “who's doing strategy” and the product manager says, “I was on sales calls and meetings so I didn't have time to do the roadmaps.” And the president says, “okay, we'll get someone to do strategy so you can continue to support everyone with your product knowledge.”

    And now you're marginalized.

    Product managers: learn to say no and know when to say yes. Going on a sales call to learn about buyer personas and the buying process? Yes. Going on the 15th sales call to the same client “because you can close the deal”–no!

    The exec team needs a business leader making product decisions. Can you? If not, they'll find someone who can.

  • 2 GeekMBA360 // Sep 4, 2009 at 2:59 pm

    Thanks for the excellent comments, Steve! I totally agree that we product managers need to learn to say “no”.

    I think the “confidence” factor is huge here. Product Manager has a longer time horizon when they make decisions — e.g. PM is concerned about how well the business will be doing 6 months, 12 months or even longer down the road. However, in sales-driven organization, it's always the last conversation someone just had with a client. Product Manager needs to have the confidences and toughness to look beyond “the potential instant gratification” and make tough calls. Sometimes, the company won't see the positive results from the PM's decision until a few months later. It's up to the PM to make the unpopular call and stick to it. Of course, this assumes the PM has done all of his homework, and is making the right decision for the business.

  • 3 GeekMBA360 // Sep 4, 2009 at 6:59 pm

    Thanks for the excellent comments, Steve! I totally agree that we product managers need to learn to say “no”.

    I think the “confidence” factor is huge here. Product Manager has a longer time horizon when they make decisions — e.g. PM is concerned about how well the business will be doing 6 months, 12 months or even longer down the road. However, in sales-driven organization, it's always the last conversation someone just had with a client. Product Manager needs to have the confidences and toughness to look beyond “the potential instant gratification” and make tough calls. Sometimes, the company won't see the positive results from the PM's decision until a few months later. It's up to the PM to make the unpopular call and stick to it. Of course, this assumes the PM has done all of his homework, and is making the right decision for the business.

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