All Hail to the Product Manager, our Guardian of Success

What is at the core of every company out there?  It’s what that company offers to its customers and gets paid for, the Product.

It doesn’t matter what the product is.  If it’s a service or a physical object, software or hardware… it’s what customers buy from you.  It’s your reason of being as a company.  And there are plenty of important questions that surround the product.

Questions like:  What new products do I need to develop?  What products do I launch?  Which products do I invest or divest?  Which products make money and which don’t?  Which products need to be renewed or retired?  What customer segments value what products, and why?  How do I further delight my customers?  How do my products compare to competition…

These questions are some of the most difficult to answer but sit at the heart of all organizations out there.  Fail to answer these questions and your company will have a hard time surviving the future.

Many companies don’t deal with these questions in a structural manner.  That doesn’t mean they don’t deal with them but responsibilities are scattered throughout the organization.  And issues are treated in an ad-hoc way through informal networks.  Not necessarily an ineffective way if the company doesn’t offer a lot of products.

But companies that offer a myriad of products, have a hard time surviving without some form of structure.  In comes the army of knights on white horses, a.k.a. the Product Managers or PM’s (*).  The specialists who make sure your organization has the best products possible to serve your customers with.  Delighting them along the way.


The cluster of tasks

The first is Intelligence.  Like any self-respecting nation, also a self-respecting company should take its intelligence seriously.  There are three domains that need to be focussed on:

  • Market Intelligence; Knowing how the market is evolving. Are there any new legal restrictions coming your way?  Are there major investment programs that you could serve? Is there new technology out there that will influence you?
  • Customer Intelligence; What needs do your customers have? Are there any anticipated changes that could affect you?  Are there any consolidation efforts going on?  Etcetera
  • Competitive Intelligence; What is your competitor doing today? Are they launching any new products?  What is their pricing policy? Etc.

Without knowing what’s happening in the world, you will be steering blind.  Not the best recipe for success.

The second area is Innovation.  Innovation is considered by many the engine of growth. It is through innovating products, processes and business models that one can serve more customers or serve at a lower cost, providing a competitive edge.  Innovation comes from many sides and is often something that is stumbled upon.  Product Managers can and should structure the innovation process and act as a champion for it, both internally as externally.

Third on the list is the area of Product Life Cycle Management.  This is where the rubber meets the road, it concerns the management of your entire product portfolio.  Which products to launch, which features to incorporate, which products to stop, which products to reengineer…  But also, your product price and margin management.  Plus, the input that needs to be given to your back-office or supply chain organization.

And finally, Marketing these products.  Making sure the customers know about all the differentiators, that your sales organization can sell the product and the value proposition is well understood.  Guaranteeing that the right go-to-market is used according to the stage in the product life cycle, that products that require evangelical sales are not sold by channels optimized for costs and vice versa.

Quite a handful of responsibilities, isn’t it?  That is why many companies split them over multiple people in a PM team, or over multiple departments.  But ultimately the lead Product Manager needs to be aware of all 4 clusters to do a good job.

My advice to companies?  Make sure you structure for success, and give your Product Managers the room and attention they deserve.  They are your guarantee for a good future.