Where Does Product Belong In Your Organization?

Only three things happen naturally in organizations: friction, confusion, and underperformance. Everything else requires leadership. — Peter F. Drucker, American management consultant

In my first job in product management, I was based in DC and my developers were based in California. We were early adopters of agile methods but I certainly couldn’t attend daily standups; I wasn’t co-located so I couldn’t do some of the daily interactions that seem to be required today.


Instead, I flew to LA once a month and stayed for a week of development team meetings. I showed them what I’d been working on and they showed me new product features that were waiting for my approval. It seemed to work pretty well—the key was I tried to share the business and market conditions I was encountering. I gave them insight by sharing the product vision, personas, and market stories. They were free to use their judgment and I was confident they were putting the personas at the forefront of their thinking.


The thing was, I wasn’t telling them what feature to build; I was telling them what problem to solve. Even though I was in the marketing department, the product team and I were in sync; we shared a common set of goals and a shared understanding of our roles.


I’m often asked where product management should sit in the organization. Some companies put product managers in development; others in marketing. What are the merits of each?


Product management in Marketing


For some companies, marketing is a horizontal department, focused on strategy across all products and all markets. When marketing is a strategic department, product management can work nicely with sales, support, development, and other groups—our goals are centered around shared product success factors.


In other organizations, the marketing department’s focus is promotion, branding, and lead generation. In this scenario, product management tends to get pulled into a technical support role for the marketing and sales teams, providing content for demos, presentations, ebooks, and sales enablement. For this type of organization, I recommend these departments hire product marketing managers who have both product expertise and go-to-market skills.


Product management in Development


For some organizations, the product managers are primarily concerned with the product and its technology, so making product management part of development makes sense, at least initially. As a technical role, the product managers participate in daily stand-ups, acceptance testing, and development briefings on the state of the product.


Having the product manager or produ