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The Right People in the Right Roles

Last week, a good friend came to town and we had a chance to connect for dinner and drinks. During the course of the evening, one topic we discussed was related to an article that he read that emphatically made the case that small (and some not so small) companies often look to a single leader for “Sales and Marketing.” The case that was made is that these are two very different roles, and thus, it is nearly impossible to find a single individual who could do both roles well.

This reminds me of the conundrum we frequently face in product management. Often, product managers are expected to wear multiple hats, in particular to play Product Owner for the Scrum team, to be the business owner or the true Product Management function, and to be the outbound marketing expert and wear the Product Marketing hat.

Yet, all three of these roles are distinct, and have different charters, and are best filled with different skill sets. Sure, you can find people who can do all three, but I will guarantee you that everybody has a preference, and will focus their efforts in that direction, downplaying the other 2/3 of the role.

In my experience, the primary overloading of the Product Manager is to make them also the Product Owner. This seems natural, and in the first few programs I worked on that did Agile development, it was natural to just step into that role.

But it was never a primary focus. Two days before the iteration end, I would dive into the backlog, look at the progress in Jira, prioritize, do my mini-estimates, and then build a plan of what to bring to the sprint planning. That worked. Ok. But it wasn’t optimal.

I put a lot of thought into that mini-grooming and prioritization, and I was (mostly) available to the scrum team when an issue or question popped up. But, as the product manager, I spent at least a week a month on the road, and that wasn’t good for the scrum team.

Likewise with the Product Marketing function. All that messaging, content creation, social media activity, meeting with analysts, event planning and execution, working with corporate communications, and handling launch/rollout activities. Far too many places expect their product manager to also handle the product marketing function.

The truth is, for a mature organization, you need all three functions, and three dedicated, suitable people to be in these roles. They need shared goals, and their objectives aligned, but if you are doing justice to the team, you need separate assets for all key roles.

Summary

Like Marketing and Sales, where you are cheating yourself by not staffing with two leaders, product management, product owner, and product marketing need three leaders, who can effectively work together to deliver on the strategy and the roadmap.

It is time to set the team up for success.


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SVPMA July Meeting – Steven Haines

On Wednesday, July 6th, I attended the SVPMA monthly meeting. This time was different from the usual invited speaker, it was Steven Haines of Sequent Learning who hosted a “role play” of a cross functional product meeting.

An interesting role play, Steven lined up 6 victims willing participants, to represent the major functional groups in an organization, Product Management, Operations, Sales, Marketing, Customer Support, and Development, providing each of them a backstory to guide their motivation.

Additionally, a scenario of a product group as part of a large company that had good initial revenue and traction, but beginning to really falter in the middle of the third year. Provided to the audience was a financial balance sheet, some KPI’s, and a short summary of the history.

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Challenges to the Product Management role

Much ink has been spilled over the years as to how poorly defined the Product Management role is, and how this ambiguity can severely impact the consistency of performance. From confusion of what the role is, and what it is not, spill over from other areas, and even the tendency of the tactical to do list crowding out the high level, high value strategic work that a well qualified product manager should be delivering to the organization.

This is the start of a series targeted at Product Management and Product Marketing leadership with a goal to help fine tune your organization

I personally can vouch for this, having seen a wide range of expectations, and a mismatch of these expectations with on the ground reality of the implementation of the role, from Semiconductor Capital Equipment to Enterprise Communications software. Each organization has its own expectations and realities of the “product manager” role, and your product manager adapts to what is expected.