Your First Days as Head of Product Management

Do you lead a new product management team? Here's where you should begin.


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 (ie., roads), and enable information transfer (such as phones and internet).


What is the role of senior leadership, particularly the head of product management? Isn’t it the same? To provide infrastructure.


In my experience, decisions are often made at the wrong levels of most organizations. 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 is expected to represent the business of the product so your dev 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.


What should you tackle in your role of VP of Product or Chief Product Officer? Think infrastructure.


Optimize your processes. What processes do you have in place to turn ideas into products? And how do new products get to the market? Fundamentally, product management needs repeatable processes to define and launch new product capabilities. Development teams have adopted agile methods to optimize their delivery of new products. Shouldn’t you do the same?


Clarify roles and responsibilities. What is the product manager’s role? How about product owner and product marketing manager? Do they have different responsibilities? Just as you need optimized processes, you need clarity on the roles and responsibilities of product management. Profiling your team will identify where individuals need help as well as skill areas for future staffing decisions. For instance, if you’re strong in technical expertise, maybe you need to staff up for business expertise.