William Shakespeare once said, “The Eyes are the window to your soul.” Think of product management as the window to your organization’s soul. Everything about how your organization builds, markets, sells and onboards customers starts and ends with your products. As product management goes, so goes the rest of the organization.

Here’s a stab at what many would consider the ideal product management discipline (B2B). Granted, it’s a bit subjective, but these are common principles most everyone would agree with.

7 Characteristics of the Ideal Product Management Function

  1. A team that leads far more than it reacts.
  2. A team that has the trust of the organization to make the smartest decisions on product direction and investment priorities.
  3. A team that has a more well-rounded understanding of the market than all other disciplines combined.
  4. A team that operates with a “whole is greater than the sum of the parts” mentality as it relates to the strategic customer value of its portfolio.
  5. A team that sets all other disciplines up for success (engineering, marketing, sales and customer success) with clear value targets and then delivers product solutions that consistently hit those targets.
  6. A team that knows how to execute, avoid irrelevant distractions and say NO in the best interest of the organization.
  7. Does all of the above in a way that best supports your organization’s strategic and financial goals.

I know what you’re thinking, and you’d be right. There are very few product management organizations that possess all of these characteristics. But you have to set the bar high. Here’s why.

The further your product management organization is from whatever you consider ideal, the worse the ripple effect on the rest of the organization, and vice-versa.

The Negative Ripple Effect

  • Your product priorities are nothing more than a tactical reflection of the squeakiest customer wheels and sales requests that can change with the wind.
  • Engineering, sales, marketing and customer success functions are spending too much time trying to do product management because they believe their knowledge of the market is stronger than product management.
  • Engineering and product development teams feel like they never know what they’re aiming for…Why are we building it? How will it make customers better at something that’s critical to their success?
  • Marketing and sales don’t have a strong value story that separates you from the competition so they resort to feature wars and bigger discounts.
  • Customer on-boarding teams teach customers how to use product features instead of teaching them how to get specific outcomes that make them better at their job. Customer success stories are few and far between.

Here’s the thing. It’s not like there’s a finger to point or someone to blame. For all of the strides that product management has made in just about every facet of the profession, there’s still one enormous cause & effect that’s not fully understood.

It’s the true impact of product management’s performance on the rest of the organization.

The Jack-of-All-Trades Product Manager Doesn’t Work

Just like any sports team, there are many approaches, strategies and schemes for winning. The same goes for building a high-functioning product management discipline. But there’s one approach that simply doesn’t work, yet it’s the exact approach many organizations have taken.

It’s the one-size-fits-all, jack-of-all-trades product manager. Go look at any product manager job description and you’ll see it. Look at the training programs and you’ll see it again. Look at the assortment of product management tools and technologies and you’ll see even more. The list goes on.

It’s a recipe for long-term mediocrity. Sure, it might work for a short time or in early-stage companies, but it’s not a recipe for success over the long term.

It doesn’t scale and it eventually reduces your team to a one-trick pony of product experts who don’t know much beyond your users and how they use the products. It exacerbates the negative ripple effect that makes life more difficult for engineering, marketing, sales and customer success teams.

This might be the worst part of it all. Many organizations are trying to perfect the jack-of-all-trades product manager role and don’t realize they’re aspiring to mediocrity.

Divide & Conquer Product Management Works

No matter how you look at it, product management has to be a two-headed discipline.

One part of product management has to own the market. Not the market for each product, but the market, period. WHAT’s driving the target customer organization from the top down, WHY, and WHAT are they doing about it? How well are you aligned versus the competition?

The other part of product management has to own the job responsibilities and workflows of the people in the trenches (first line managers and staff) along with the corresponding products. HOW do people do their job, WHAT parts of their job are most critical to improve and WHY? HOW will our solutions make them better in ways that have value to the C-suite?

These two factions have to be joined at the hip and work collaboratively on all fronts. It’s the only way to balance the WHO, WHAT & WHY at all levels of the customer organization with the HOW…how people do their jobs, and how your products should work to make them better at their jobs in ways that have strategic value.

The Bottom Line

The first and most important reason your products exist is to make customers better at something that’s critical to the success of their business. Do it well and your own goals pretty much take care of themselves.

Doing it well starts by building your product management discipline from the outside in. It has to mirror the business of the customer from the top down, 80/20 rule.

Do it and you’ll see what a cakewalk it is to figure out what your target customers are trying to accomplish strategically, why it’s critical to their success, and the obstacles standing in their way. The subsequent execution of building, marketing, selling and deploying your solutions will never be easier.

Learn How

Learn how to build your product management organization from the outside in and set your engineering, marketing, sales and customer success teams up for one victory after another. Enroll in Product Management University On-Demand or contacts us about an instructor-led training workshop.

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