How can product management be aligned with the rest of the business?

by Liz Gross in Best practices
March 25, 2016

For many organizations, product management is still a supporting function, if even a function at all. But as the function becomes increasingly important, it’s time to make sure it’s aligned with the rest of the business and in the best position to have a meaningful impact.

We recently co-hosted a webinar with Steven Haines of Sequent Learning Networks to help product leaders better align business functions with product management within an organization. Steven provided an implementable framework for moving product management out of a supporting role and establishing it as a vital, strategic partner across other business functions. Understanding how to do this correctly can transform your company in profound ways. Here are some key takeaways from the webinar, along with the slides on the bottom.

Don’t reinvent the PM wheel with every new executive.

There is a high churn rate of senior executives within a large organization and often this doesn’t bode well for product managers. Every time a new executive arrives on the scene, they often bring their own ideas about product management should function within the organization. If “reinventing of the PM wheel” becomes a habit, the entire organization loses the opportunity to benefit from lessons learned previously. Instead of carrying all the insights learned from a previous experience to the next endeavor, product managers are forced to start from square one again and again. Steven suggests making it a top priority to define a clear role of product management in the company so the purpose doesn’t change each time an executive does.

What is the definition of product management?

Realizing how important defining the role of product management is within an organization, Steven asked one group for a definition and received 556 different answers. Why the confusion? Definitions were often based on factors such as company size, industry, and company maturity, without appropriate global benchmarks that apply to all product managers. This diminishes the value of the “function” of Product Management as well as the “profession” for product managers.

Ultimately, the product manager is a person appointed to be a proactive, product or product line “mini-business” owner. Product managers lead cross-functional product teams which Steven illustrates with a picket fence. If the other teams in an organization are the vertical pickets, product management is the backbrace as a horizontal integrative function. The individual product manager is then responsible for synchronizing an organization’s gears so that everyone works in harmony toward the company’s goals.

Incorporate market research in the strategy phase.

Nis Frome brought an example case study of Dobbs Hogoboom, the Sr. Manager of Product & Strategy at the “New York Post” to illustrate how a PM can effectively provide leadership through a company. The current audience at the “New York Post” was one of aging readership. Dobbs’ team set a strategy to focus on a younger, more affluent mobile audience. By incorporating on-demand user research into the strategy and product development phase, Dobbs’ team was able to rapidly test and prioritize ideas. This allowed them to discover the areas in which they could invest with the most innovative potential, and effectively communicate this across their organization. The many iterations and constant flow of data kept their teams aligned until they were ready to launch.

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