Managing Product Management: Empowering Your Organization to Produce Competitive Products and Brands

Managing Product Management: Empowering Your Organization to Produce Competitive Products and Brands

by Steven Haines

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Build better products by expanding the role of Product Management

Managing Product Management argues that product management should be reinstituted as a key source of innovative ideas that solve broad market problems. It illustrates how to organize the product management function of a company to create, build, and produce innovative and

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Build better products by expanding the role of Product Management

Managing Product Management argues that product management should be reinstituted as a key source of innovative ideas that solve broad market problems. It illustrates how to organize the product management function of a company to create, build, and produce innovative and game-changing products and services.

Steven Haines is the founder and president of Sequent Learning Networks, a training and advisory services firm with an international client base. He held leadership roles for AT&T and Oracle and was adjunct professor at Rutgers University's business school.

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The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.

Copyright © 2012Steven Haines
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ISBN: 978-0-07-177005-7





* A universal approach to the function of Product Management can serve as a powerful organizational model.

* An assessment of the impact of prior transformational efforts offers vital clues that help effective Product Management take root in an organization.

* Every organizational adjustment must take into account the impact on the firm's ability to plan, develop, launch, and manage products and product lines.

If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more, and become more, you are a leader.


Years ago, when I worked as a product manager in large corporations, they seemed to reorganize every six months. I could always count on getting a new boss every year—and once, I had three bosses in two years. Each new manager had new methods and ideas—and quirks—to contend with. Each reorganization brought new leadership teams who complained about past leadership teams—and promised things would be different under their management.

We product managers found it hard to get our minds around the changes because what senior leaders showed us on their PowerPoint slides had no relevance to the work that we, as product managers, were actually doing! While their new strategies cascaded and evolved, we still had to wrestle with the ever-present, day-to-day tactical and product-related issues of our product manager duties. There was a huge disconnect. To our teams, it seemed like the senior leaders worked in one place, while the rest of us worked somewhere else, and the leaders were totally oblivious to our everyday challenges.

In time, some aspects of the organization would begin to morph. However, there was little resemblance between the resulting structures laid out by one senior leadership team to the next. I believe one cause of the problem was that they couldn't adequately describe their desired end state (read: "couldn't communicate their vision"). Further, they failed to anticipate, with enough detail or clarity, how the changes would impact the function of Product Management and the role of the product managers. The result? Product managers and the managers of the product managers could not effectively adapt behaviors and actions to achieve the hoped-for results.

I began to suspect that most of the leaders couldn't imagine how and where each piece of the "organizational puzzle" was supposed to fit into the whole picture. To me, this situation was comparable to doing a jigsaw puzzle where the disparate pieces could not be properly arranged because there was no illustration on the box to show the finished puzzle.

I see all such issues as a phenomenon of dysfunctional change. The dilemma has been the subject of books, research projects, and consultant engagements for decades. What's more, the function and structure of Product Management has suffered greatly as a result of these many dysfunctional changes. Note: This also applies to brand management, market segment management, or product category management, if you're in industries with these embedded structures.

Based on all my experience in this field, I believe the cause of this dysfunctional change phenomenon is that there is no universal approach to the function and purpose of Product Management. It's not that Product Management is not being carried out. In fact, it is being performed everywhere—but in myriad different ways. With so much variation in how Product Management is performed and with no paradigms for improvement, there can be negative impacts on the organization, such as role confusion and poor interpretation or misalignment of key business processes. All in all, these dysfunctions act like heavy boat anchors, dragging down corporate efficiency.


No one before has actually put a stake in the ground to recommend the establishment of a transformational framework for Product Management. In my first book, The Product Manager's Desk Reference, I set forth the body of knowledge clarifying the basic elements needed for doing the work involved in Product Management. Based on that foundation, and on what I have since learned from the years I've spent in research and benchmarking, I feel strongly that now is the time to focus attention on the creation of a solid organizational structure to enable better Product Management. It is the logical next step.

Every time a reorganization takes place and a new management is in charge, companies have to "reinvent" how Product Management is performed. To prove my point: At a client firm, the leader of Organizational Development was charged with guiding the firm's Product Management transformation. However, that action was delayed because, as the leader explained: "We have to put things on hold until our new chief marketing officer (CMO) arrives—we're not sure of her philosophy about Product Management."

I want to change the state of the art. I believe that in the current business world, when a reorganization occurs with a new management in place, companies shouldn't have to reinvent the wheel once again to deal with the Product Management function.

For the balance of this chapter, I will discuss my observations about some past transformational efforts and their impact on Product Management, and I'll comment on what I've learned from them.


If we are going to work out how to reinvent the wheel for the last time, the first thing to do is appraise some Product Management situations involved in past reorganizations (or transformations). Think of it this way: When you want to craft a strategy for the future (e.g., an organizational strategy), you should have a good picture, first, of where you were and, second, how you got to where you are. As I explain the details of my appraisals, I will note some significant factors for you to consider. As you will see, these notes will contribute greatly to the areas of work I lay out as the book unfolds.

The appraisal process starts by asking six basic questions. It's not rocket science, and I'm not trying to oversimplify their importance. I have personally encountered so many of these situations in my research and in my work with clients that I believe it's a good idea to resurface these fundamentals. As you read the questions and some of the brief anecdotes, you may find you can identify with some of them. In turn, your ability to ask and answer these questions may prove to be of help as you think about options for organizational design and change. First, I'll list the questions, and then I'll expound upon on each one.

1. What prompted the reorganization in the first place, and what was the vision for the new organizational structure as it related to Product Management?

2. How did the envisioned transformation impact the Product Management population?

3. How much time was allowed for the Product Management transformation to take place?

4. How well did senior leaders communicate their vision and the path forward, especially to the product managers and other stakeholders?

5. How clearly did management explain the roles, responsibilities, and future rules for cross-functional engagement?

6. What measurements and milestones were established for the initiative, and what evidence was sought to validate that those objectives were being met?

Question 1. What prompted the reorganization in the

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