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Strategic Investment in Product Management: The Time is Now

It is time for the product management industry to step up and make the business case for the strategic investment in product management.

Current Product Management Professional Development Practices

Our research's overwhelming takeaway is that there is little formality or alignment around product management professional development programs and what we see as a significant under-investment in product management by organizations.

This result should not surprise, due to the known issues with process, alignment, and results mentioned in this series' previous articles.

Results from our survey include:

Product teams need support:

  • Only 14% of product teams have a formal professional development program for product management.

  • Only 36% said they get support from their Human Resources and Talent Development organizations.

Budgets are severely constrained:

  • Only 27% had a set budget (either for the entire product organization or for each resource);

  • 63% must request funds on a one-off basis for any professional development;

  • 59% of respondents said the average annual spend was less than $1,000 per resource; and

  • 27% spend between $1,000 and $2,500 per resource.

These results confirm that product management professional development is ad hoc.

As product management is growing in importance at many firms, there seems to be an imbalance between the role's perceived importance and the investment in the function.

If product management is to play a role in determining the right opportunities to pursue and enable the organization to successfully realize those opportunities, the current state of professional development is unacceptable and needs to change.

Strategic Investment in the Product Management Function

In the McKinsey article "Product Managers for the Digital World," the authors define product management as:

"...the glue that binds the many functions that touch a product–engineering, design, customer success, sales, marketing, finance, legal, and more. They not only own the decisions about what gets built but also influence every aspect of how it gets built and launched."

If a function is so critical to a product's success that it "owns decisions about what gets built" and "influences every aspect of how it gets built and launched," we are not sure the term glue is strong enough.

Product management provides a focus for the efforts of each of the functions in the organization.

As a critical leverage point, we see product management as a fulcrum that plays an essential role in the organization.

Product management enables them to deliver success individually and collectively by providing the context each function needs to be successful.

For a role that is so strategically important for an organization's success, the lack of formal professional development programs and investment in professional development in product management is unacceptable.

This investment is vital to improve product management results and elevate the understanding of product management's role and process across the organization.

Increase Organizational Understanding of and Investment in Product Management

There are three areas that companies need to invest in:

  • Upstream (product management)

  • Midstream (agile training and coaching for development and human-centered design for design)

  • Downstream (sales training and coaching, sales kick-offs, sales operations, and more)

It is time to invest as much in the upstream as companies already invest in the midstream and downstream.

All the functions influenced by product management should understand product management's role and process.

Product management often participates in sales and agile training.

This understanding will significantly increase the number of companies where product management's role is clearly defined and understood and address the process issues.

The product management process, by definition, works across all of the functions.

Product management professional development needs to shift from ad hoc to defined programs, and the spending on professional development needs to increase.

Recommendations for how much a company should spend on professional development range from 1% to 5% of salary per year. For a strategic and vital role in the business as product management, 3% of salary per year should be a starting point.

The return on that investment is:

  • Improved understanding across the organization in the role of product management

  • Improved results from functions across the organization due to better product management

  • Improved outcomes from the organization by focusing on and executing the right opportunities

  • Improved product managers' retention as they see investment in them and a formal program for their development.

The increased investment in product management professional development should be obvious, based on the compound effect on the entire organization.

Evolve Professional Development for Product Management

The first thing to do is commit to making a strategic investment in the product management function, above and beyond salaries and ad hoc professional development.

  • Go to your CEO or leadership team to make a case for an increased budget. If they understand good product management's strategic value, this should not be too hard.

  • Develop a product management professional development program for your business.

  • Define how you will provide a baseline of learning and coaching for your team.

  • Define development paths based on specialization areas like product strategy, product marketing, and technical product management.

  • Provide an ongoing cadence of learning and coaching opportunities for your team that focuses on application and makes professional development an ongoing process.

  • Engage with stakeholders from across the organization to provide a better understanding of product management. Use them as resources to mentor and coach your team in all aspects of the business.

Enable Consistency with Product Operations

While you are going to leadership to ask for a strategic investment in product management, Product Operations is one last thing to consider.

Product Operations is a relatively new role within product management. The role is critical to help enable consistency in how product management engages with and enables both internal and external stakeholders.

Additionally, they play a pivotal role in helping you evolve professional development for your product management team and manage it on an ongoing basis.

Product Operations focus on normalizing and scaling the product function across products and services.

To do this, they create an organizational product management "playbook" of methods that they customize to the business's unique needs.

The playbook provides standard processes with common templates and tools to ensure all stakeholders receive a consistent experience and are enabled for success.

Product Operations often play a key role in enabling decisions based on market data.

They can lead data analytics and acquisition and develop methods for the product team to have meaningful engagement with customers and potential customers.

To learn more about Product Operations, check out Steve Johnson's blog "Adapt Best Practices with Product Ops."

It is Time to Make the Strategic Investment in Product Management

There is an excellent opportunity to improve your product team's results and your entire organization with a strategic investment.

Help your internal stakeholders better understand the value of product management and how your team enables their teams to succeed.

Evolve how you handle professional development for your product team. Create a professional development program for product management and engage stakeholders from across the organization to strengthen your team's business knowledge and awareness.

Introduce Product Operations into your organization to help enable this and drive consistency and value moving forward.

There is an excellent opportunity to help your product team grow and develop into business leaders.

Now is the time to make a strategic investment in product management and strengthen your entire organization.

Learn more about building the business case for product management training in our free eBook, "The ROI of Product Management Training." Before you can justify the cost of training, you need to justify the value of product management.


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