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Product Management Adoption in Organizations

All organizations manage their products, what they sell, and to whom. As companies grow, they standardize the management of their products with dedicated roles such as strategic product manager, technical product manager, and product marketing manager.

Typically, companies go through three key lifecycle stages in adopting product management: pre-product management, introducing product management, and scaling product management.

The Three Stages of Product Management Adoption

The pre-product management stage exists when no formal product management function exists. The founder or senior technical person is the de facto product manager at this stage.

Next comes the introduction of product management as a recognized function. A product role is added to the team, sometimes as part of marketing, sometimes in development.

With a successful implementation, most organizations move to a phase of scaling product management, often with discrete roles for strategy, planning, and go-to-market. At this stage, companies realize that product needs a senior leader, a seat at the table.

In addition to these three stages, some encounter the “messy back end” of the product management lifecycle, when complacency and dysfunction occur.

Let’s look a little deeper at each of these stages.

Pre-Product Management

Companies in the pre-product management stage typically have less than $20m in revenue. Decisions on where to focus their resources are made by leadership, usually a founder or senior executive. New product ideas are mandated to engineering; new market focus areas are mandated to marketing and sales teams.

Yet even at this stage, founders and CEOs gain value from a product management mindset, such as continual prioritization and market validation before making final decisions. This perspective results in writing things down, socializing them, and keeping them current. A systematic mindset helps ensure the organization is aligned on the product strategy at all levels of the organization.

Introducing Product Management

While some companies may never move past the pre-product management phase, most realize that formalizing the role of product management is critical for achieving sustainable growth. Companies in the Introduction phase typically are in the $15m to $50m range.

There are two approaches for introducing product management to an organization: some hire a senior strategist, others hire a technical product manager.

When companies introduce product management with a more senior role, such as a VP or Director of Product, they want to offload strategic decisions. The president or founder realizes they spend too much time “in the business” instead of “on the business.”

However, in some cases, those who previously played that role still want to drive product strategy, placing the new product leader in more of an administrative or technical role. If your leadership wants to continue driving the strategy, you’ll want to hire a first product manager to focus more on the mid- and downstream product management activities.

Scaling Product Management

The time to scale product management occurs when your product management team reaches four or five product professionals. When you have multiple product management resources doing similar work on different products, features, or segments. Companies in the scaling stage are typically above $35m in revenue.

The key to scaling is standardization. A product playbook with a common language, consistent artifacts, and defined roles enables your product management team to systematically drive the best ideas into successful products.

Furthermore, a standard playbook with clearly documented roles will simplify onboarding new team members as your company grows.

The Messy Backend of Product Management Adoption

Most companies successfully manage the introduction and scaling phases of product management. Still, we see many teams struggling with difficulties in product management in the aftermath of the scaling phase.

Product Management Adoption: pre-product management, introducing product management, scaling product management

Teams must continue to grow and improve, or else they atrophy. Transformation isn't a one-time project—it’s an ongoing process.

In certain cases, organizations must reinvent product management, often due to performance issues, organizational chaos, or expanded teams due to mergers and acquisitions.

Organizational assessment

As you work on navigating the adoption or reinvention of product management in your organization, begin with an organizational assessment. What’s working and what isn't? Who is doing what? And are the activities being performed by the appropriate roles?

Define (or redefine) your optimal process

To define your processes, begin with an inventory of your current processes and artifacts. Which are critical and which are simply noise? Identify the gaps between the current execution and the desired future state. Identify the activities and artifacts for each phase. For each activity, define its impact on your company’s success. Where should you put extra focus? How well are you executing these today?

Assess your current playbook

A product playbook contains your documented methods and ready-to-use templates. What is required in your business planning documents? How are markets, products, and features prioritized? What is the standard format for roadmaps? Assess each step of your planning process from idea to market to determine which areas need standardization.

Clarify roles and responsibilities

Finally, clarify roles and responsibilities by identifying which role is responsible for each activity in your process. Many teams achieve role clarity with a RACI definition. Who is responsible? Who must approve? Who must be consulted? Who must be informed?

Continually improve your product management team

A periodic assessment guides your decisions on your product management team.

  • Identify which essential organizational activities need more focus. Identify where you can shift or add resources or provide coaching or training.

  • A playbook assessment pinpoints where to develop or strengthen processes and skills, perhaps through workshops, training, or collaborating with partner teams.

  • Roles and responsibilities definitions bring role clarity to the organization.

  • And you’re not done. Do an assessment every few months. The assessment becomes your product team dashboard.

Regularly assessing, optimizing, and upskilling your team is key to successfully leveraging the important role of product management.


Assess and Optimize your product team

Join our free on demand program and watch Steve Johnson, co-founder of Product Growth Leaders, walk you through the steps to take to assess and optimize your product team.


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