I still remember the first sentence in my product management book at business school. A product manager is a general manager without the powers of one.
Having done product management for many years now I realize the truth in that statement more and more. Influence without authority is a Product Manager’s single most important skill. Keeping engineers motivated, designers focused and well… just about everyone else happy all with influence that comes from knowledge, experience and above all, ownership of the product.
Product management is the core of a successful organization. This role is probably closest to the role of a founder in a startup, just at a product level. A product manager is responsible for not just for conceptualizing and building the product but driving the distribution, marketing, monetization and just about everything else that relates to their product. If product management fails, the product fails and so does the business….
The failure in product is often not in the idea but the execution. The gap between the vision and what gets built is often the cause of failure. That’s where product managers come in. A product manager takes a product from vision to conceptualization of features, user flows, design, development and testing making trade offs at every step without compromising the core concept. That’s why a single person needs to own the product (or a product feature) from concept to launch. The product manager is the general manger of the product and needs to be closely involved with the product at every step of the process.
Considering product management plays such a big role in the success or failure of a product, here are some things that organizations can do to build successful product teams.
Hire the right people
This one seems like a cliche but product managers have to have the founder like personalities where they can take many different inputs and convert those into product features. Successful Product Managers come from all backgrounds such as design, engineering, marketing and sometimes directly from business schools. The important thing is there ability to be good at 10 different things and understand each one at a conceptual level rather than an overwhelming focus on one. A superstar engineer or the most creative designer and can be a really bad product manager. A product manager has to be a good General Manager.
Product organization should be flat
Flat organizations work well in all streams but in product organization all the more. Remember product mangers are general managers. A general manager managing another general manager is not very meaningful. In startup world, often the hierarchy is created to attract talent. When levels are created without enough difference in roles, it gives rise to all sorts of negative behavior like unhealthy competition and lack of information sharing.
And the ownership has to be absolutely clear
This is really important for a successful product organization. Ownership is a very powerful tool. It works pretty much in every sphere of life. From a kid successfully completing his homework everyday to a CEO running a successful company, it’s the ownership that drives. With ownership comes accountability and that drives the results. Where there is clear ownership, there is drive to succeed at any cost. Ownership is also about allowing people to make mistakes and learn from it. When parents make mistakes in raising their child, the ownership does not change (except in extreme circumstances) and the ownership remains. Most parents learn from their own mistakes and become better at it over time.
Ownership for product managers is about having clear defined set of features or products they are responsible for, which ideally should be independent businesses with measurable success. In many cases product organizations are made up of more than one Product professionals with different levels of experience. Each person can own different parts or features of the product depending upon experience and skill but its important to have clear ownership. A starting level PM could handle a small feature and own it from concept to launch. This will bring commitment, accountability, happy product managers and successful products. A Product manager should be the general manager of the product with the powers of one.