Why Product Management

Too many people look at product management through a development or Agile lens. Agile methods have redirected product managers to focus primarily on the technical aspects of a product: Stories, requirements, backlogs, roadmaps, release plans.

What’s missing? The business aspects.

As it was envisioned in 1941 by Proctor & Gamble, product management requires a business and strategic lens. Not “What is it?” but “Why is it?” What problem are you solving? For whom? And how will customers and the business benefit?

Our customers tell us they have perfected the agile development process. They know how to build products right. And now they’ve realized they’re not building the right products. They are not giving their highly effective, agile development teams work that is valuable to the business and to its customers.

In this four-part series, we’ll explore the importance of product management for enterprises:

  • What is a “Product”? (read it here);

  • Why Product Management (this article);

  • Why Every Company Needs Product Management; and

  • The Business Role of Product Management

In the first article, “What is a ‘Product’?” I defined a product as “a solution for a persona’s problem, including all components necessary to fully solve that problem and the persona’s experience throughout the process.”

Personas and Markets – who has a problem that the product can address.

Products Solve Problems – in the simplest form a customer buys a product to solve or address a problem.

Whole Product Concept – customers view the product as all of the components to solve their problem, the whole product.

Experience is Part of the Product – customers view their experience through the buying and using process as part of the product.

Why Product Management?

Now that we have defined a “product” let’s shift to why product management.

When I taught B2B Marketing in the Rutgers MBA program, I always gave my students a hint of how to figure out the definition of a term or role, flip the works. So, what is “market research”? It is doing research on the market.

With that approach in mind, product management would be managing the product, and product development would be developing the product.

To help us better define product management, we decided to focus on the desired outcome of managing a product. In a recent community Topic of the Week, we decided to get some thoughts on the desired outcome by asking ‘why product management?’ There was a strong consensus that the why for product management was to make sure your company is doing the right thing.

Every company I have worked with has more ideas than resources, and as such someone needs to determine what product you sell (or develop or end-of-life) to which markets and personas.

Even if a company does not have a Product Management function (big P and M), someone is making these decisions—that person is managing the product; they are doing product management (little p and m).

For a startup or smaller company often it is a founder, CEO or President, that does little p and m product management, but as a company grows in size, in product and markets, as well as in complexity, the need for big P and M Product Management grows to help scale the company.

This article will focus on why little p and m product management, with a nod to the fact that the more product you sell and markets you serve, the more complex your business is, the more important it is for you to establish a formal Product Management function.

Doing the Right Thing

Making the decision of what product to sell to which markets and personas, may sound simple, but the reality is it is very difficult. Research shows that around 75% of product initiatives fail to create any value. Some even destroy value.

When a company has more ideas than resources, and on average 75% of product initiatives fail, all of the sudden product management becomes risk management. Product management is really about placing bets on the right initiatives that will maximize the value created from those resources.

You can read more of my high-level thoughts on doing the right things in my two-part series The Product Leadership Imperative here.

This article is going to focus on three key aspects of doing the right things that each, and more so collectively, address why product management. They are value to the market, value to the organization, and value to the team.

Product Management is about Value to the Market

“The customer is the foundation of a business and keeps it in existence.” –Peter Drucker

It may seem simple, but it is true. If we did not have customers, we would not have a business. As we define product management’s focus on doing the right thing, we like to extrapolate that to markets of customers.

Product management (the role or function) at its core is about delivering value to the market as your product is determined “by the want the buyer satisfies” when they purchase a product.

To do this product management becomes the voice of the market.

They engage with the market to discover unmet and under-met needs, what the market values, how they make decisions.

From that engagement, they are able to understand all of the opportunities where value can be delivered to the market, and focus their initiatives and strategies on doing the right things, the things where they have the best opportunity to deliver on that value.

As the voice of the market, product management is also responsible to orient all stakeholders in the organization around understanding the market, their needs, their value. This focus helps to ensure the product that is developed delivers on the potential value, and our sales and marketing efforts communicate clearly the value proposition to the market.

Product Management is about Value to the Organization

“Profit is not the explanation, cause or rationale of business behavior and business decisions, but rather a test of their validity.” –Peter Drucker

The reality is that organizations deliver value to the market, for some sort of value in return. In for-profit organizations, value is normally viewed in terms of profits, though the concept of benefit corporations may be changing that. In government, education, or non-profits, each may have their own definition of what value is to their organization and stakeholder.

Doing the right thing, therefore, is not just about delivering value to the market, but also value to your organization.

This means both value to the market and value to the organization need to be factored in when deciding which things are the right things, and product management is the role that should understand each, and balance them in determining what are the right things to do.

Often, we see product initiatives deliver value neither to the market nor to the organization. Eliminating these non-value-added initiatives is the greatest opportunity to improve the productivity of organizations currently, and that is not even taking into consideration the residual impact of non-value-added initiatives have on morale.

Product Management is about Value to the Team

“The test [for morale in an organization] is performance, not conformance.” –Peter Drucker

In our Topic of the Week conversation on why product management, one product leader had a simple, one-word answer. Morale.

Everybody wants to have success. Designers want to design successful products. Developers want to develop successful products. Sales and marketing want to sell and market successful products. And without focus, direction, and context each of them will do what they think is best for that success.

Product Management, by focusing everyone on doing the right things and enabling them to successfully do their part, is the glue that brings everyone together for success.

At the end of Ted Lasso season one, Ted said to the team after a tough loss “the only thing worse than being sad, is to be sad and alone.”

The why product management of value to the team flips this on its head, the only thing better than having success is to have success with a team.

If Product Management delivers value through doing the right things, if they deliver value both to the market as well as value to the organization, one critical byproduct is the value that is created for the team from that joint success.

So, why product management? Because you want success, however you define it, and product management helps you get there.


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