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Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Is product management itself the most overlooked product in our community?

I've spent considerable time lately thinking about the effectiveness of product management in product development organizations, particularly in the IT industry. In attempting to define a comprehensive framework with which to assess product management organizational maturity, I am struck but the lack of thoughtfulness and rigor many organization apply to product management itself (I am as guilty as anyone). As with all corporate functions, the outputs of product management can be viewed as a product: PM organizations have a mission, stakeholders and a valuable  "offering" that deserve to be conceived, designed and delivered in a way that maximize the conspicuous impact of PM on delivering great products. You can think of the product vision, requirements and specs as a multi-faceted product or even as a portfolio. I don't think it's a secret that our discipline suffers from a general lack of understanding about to what we do and a sometimes nebulous set of expectations that have left some questioning our contribution to the businesses we serve.

Although I've found the exercise of defining a PM maturity model fascinating at an abstract level, it's left me wondering if, in practice, product managers and their leadership have taken the time to assess the direct value they generate (and the perception of that value) to the extent they have the products they take to market. I can't help but think that if we applied many of the same principles and effort to our "offering" as a discipline as we do to our products, our contribution  would be better recognized and our professional standing among other product development disciplines and executive leadership would improve.

This may be a radical or at least counter-intuitive thought, so let me restate it as simply as I can: We product managers deliver value to others involved in product development. The value we deliver to the organizations for whom we work is a product and should (at least some of the time) be thought of that way.

Here are a few questions product management organizations should be asking themselves:
  • Do we know who all our internal stakeholders are, the influence they have on our ability to add value and what they expect from us?
  • Are we seen as a high performance team delivering the business insight technicians are expecting more and more of?
  • Is there "pull" (in the Lean sense) for our "product"
  • Are we positioning our contribution in such a way that others see its value clearly?
  • Do we understand the work product we deliver and are we continuously looking for ways to improve it to add even greater value?

It seems ironic and a massively wasted opportunity if we can't focus our PM skills on the work we deliver to the product development organization and make those "customers" happy.

What do you think? Have you thought about the overlooked product you must deliver to others before you can ship the obvious product you the whole team works so hard to ship?

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