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Thursday, February 5, 2015

Promoting Product Management

In an earlier post, I described "product promotion" as one of product management's "Dimensions of Competency". I believe that although we're not marketing professionals, it is critical that we as product managers help get the word out about our products to external audiences such as customers, partners and analysts. In this post, I'd like to talk about an activity that is very often overlooked in product development organizations: promoting product management itself. Having helped strengthen and even implement product management multiple times, I've become keenly aware of the need in some (most?) instances to explicitly educate my coworkers about what product managers do and how we add value. As I've said before in this blog, what we deliver as product managers can itself be thought of as a product. What product manager worth her salt doesn't promote her product?

This idea may sound odd to those who work in healthy organizations with a well-established product management organization full of high achievers that have developed the referent power they need to drive their product's success. But imagine organizations that have a weak product management function or, even worse, lack one altogether. I've been a member of such organizations, fighting hard to establish our discipline only to discover that to many, it was still a poorly understood "stealth" role. I would add that I believe this topic is valid at some level for all product managers. The upshot is that tactfully making your contribution transparent to the organization is rarely a bad idea.

If your organization has recently rolled out or significantly strengthened product management, you should not rely on word of mouth or a "re-org" memo to educate others about what you do. Consider your key stakeholders, carve time out of your overloaded schedule and find a way to get in front of them personally to explain the basics: your role, your plans and how you'll measure success. I typically start with development, although, quite frankly, they typically have the greatest exposure to your work. Even so, you would be amazed at the misperceptions that can develop over time regarding what product management is or should be doing.  One approach is to ask for a slot in one of their standard meetings and clearly explain how you intend to contribute to the success of the product. Being aligned with development leadership is obviously an important prerequisite. Do the same with marketing, support and other important internal stakeholders.

Another approach is to schedule a brief meeting, perhaps 30 minutes, and invite virtually the entire product development organization. Create a 10 slide deck that that covers "the basics" (from above) and leave plenty of time for questions.

If your organization has a more mature product management role, don't assume everyone understands it. Regularly addressing people from other disciplines or even product groups face-to-face and sharing your challenges and successes can give these audiences a better appreciation for what you do. It also demonstrates a level of professionalism that will usually impress.

I also like the idea of having a wiki that provides transparency on the product management team and their activities. I've also resorted to hanging posters displaying goals, accomplishments and other interesting information in hallways to make sure product management's contribution was reasonably conspicuous.

I know many of you are thinking that nothing promotes product management like success in the market and I agree wholeheartedly. But I would still challenge you to provide others involved in product development with greater insight into your contribution via more channels and with greater frequency than quarterly revenue reports.

Promoting product management is an ongoing activity that you should actively pursue and manage -- just like promoting your product; the work never really ends. In rare cases, you may be making such a spooky contribution that your rock god status speaks for itself. The truth is, these situations are rare a primarily an illusion dreamed up by product managers who have gotten out of touch.

So what do you do to promote product management within your product development organizations? What experiences can you share?


  1. You may want to consider some of the resources available through the Product Development and Management Association and their local chapters to help promote product management within your organization. I've brought my company's management to PDMA events in the past as well.

    1. Good pointer Eric. ISPMA is another option.