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Your First Days as Head of Product Management

Do you lead a new product management team? Here are some tips on how you should begin.

In your first days as head of product management, focus on creating streamlined processes for your team to ensure defined roles and responsibilities.

In The Earth is Flat, Thomas Friedman expressed his view of the government’s primary role: to provide infrastructure: Make it easy to start a business, protect our persons and property from harm, provide ways to get products from point a to point b (i.e.., roads), and enable information transfer (such as phones and the internet).

Isn’t that the role of product leadership?

Product management leadership should be in charge of direction.

In our experience, most organizations make decisions at the wrong levels. Executive teams are dabbling in product and portfolio prioritization while product managers are trying to determine (or guess) the product strategy.

Shouldn’t it be the other way around?

The product manager represents the business of the product so your development and design teams can make technical decisions.

At the start of a project, the product manager (or product owner or product leader) should express the strategic direction, the roadmap, and the business issues.

But what seems to happen in real life is product teams make decisions in the absence of any meaningful insights from management about the product and portfolio direction.

Tackle infrastructure as head of product management.

1. Design (or redesign) your processes.

What processes do you have in place to turn ideas into products? And how do new products get to the market?

Do you have standard processes for managing your products? Many teams follow a process from years ago that no longer meets their needs. Some have no process at all.

They often rely on personal heroics and institutional folklore to define, design, and deliver products. How should you manage from idea to product to market success?

Fundamentally, product management needs repeatable processes to define and launch new product capabilities systematically.

Development teams have adopted agile methods to optimize their delivery of new products. Shouldn’t you do the same?

2. Identify skills gaps.

Identify the strengths and weaknesses on your team and develop a plan to bring each employee up to speed. (We can help!) By the way, HR professionals often recommend allocating 3% of an employee’s annual compensation for professional development and coaching.

Some activities are critical; some are simply not important, at least not at this stage in your product’s life cycle. Look at each of the activities that take time for your team members, and determine if they are critical, very important, important, merely nice to have, or not important at all.

Profiling your current team will show where individuals need your help as well as identify skill areas for future staffing decisions. For instance, if you’re strong in technical expertise, maybe you need to staff up for business expertise.

3. Define your team roles and responsibilities.

Just as you need optimized processes, you need clarity on the roles and responsibilities of product management. What is the product manager’s role? How about product owner and product marketing manager? What are the responsibilities of the titles in your organization?

Only 21% of organizations have clear role assignments for product activities. That’s why product planning is chaos for many teams.

4. Create your product playbook.

Some product managers are technical; some aren’t. Every product manager uses different templates, tools they’ve found or developed, or techniques brought back from training sessions, each with a different look and feel.

As a product management executive, you want a common set of methods so you don’t have to “learn” each deliverable every time.

Improve internal perceptions.

How do other departments perceive your team? If their perceptions aren’t favorable it’s often because they have expectations that are out of sync with yours.

While many departments expect product management to provide product and domain expertise, most leadership teams rely on product management for business and market expertise.

Clarify responsibilities, processes, and deliverables to optimize product management.

Too often, organizations are unclear about the roles and responsibilities and titles of product management. If you have a dozen or more team members, you may benefit from installing a Product Ops function to drive your infrastructure plans.


Are you a new leader of a product management team? This short on-demand learning program of articles and videos is focused on the key things you should accomplish during your first days as head of product.


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