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|Best Practice Product Management

PRODUCT  MANAGER

PRODUCTS

MARKETS

Workshops

Introduction

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There have been several studies that have confirmed the overall importance and benefits of the Product Management activity within a business. To realise these benefits requires the key individuals working coherently within a defined framework.

 

Needless to say clear, simple and repeatable processes are also the key to commercial success. Many structural and cultural variables, together with the type of products and target market objectives to be achieved will ultimately determine the overall architecture.

 

Generically, the definition / role of the Product Manager has evolved quite significantly over the last 10 years and it could be questioned that the true ownership of the product in question has now been shared.

 

The general introduction and adoption of ‘agile’ development processes as opposed to Waterfall / Stage Gate processes has had a direct effect on the understanding the definition of what the role of the Product Manager actually is in practice. As a direct consequence, we now have a split role within the discipline of Product Management, the Product Manager and the Product Owner, the latter being more business orientated and as such locks into the horizontal responsibilities activities of the strategic portfolio matrix.

The Role of the Product Manager

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Product Management can be described as a business ‘discipline’ (an ethos) that has to be embedded within the organisation. Many parallels can be drawn from ‘marketing’ and ‘quality assurance principles’, whereby the discipline itself is the underlying work principle and not a ‘function’ as such. Taking this into account the role of the Product Manager is to manage the ‘Voice of the Customer’ throughout the organisation with the objective of optimising the company’s capabilities and resources ahead of the competition.

 

 

Commercial success of the product is the ultimate goal of the Product Manager and realising this goal will require co-ordinated support from the functional areas of the company. Cross functional process management and an attitude of "making it happen" are key attributes for success in product management. Product Managers also need to understand and appreciate the impact of their decisions and actions will have on the functional areas of the company. This in turn will require truly competent and strong individuals with a balance of core competence skills and commitment.

 

 

The Product Manager must be seen as an expert in their field and respected for having a thorough understanding of the interactions of all functional areas of the company.  It is important to note that full recognition and perceived ‘status’ has to be duly earned by the Product Manager themselves, however certain prerequisites should include clear terms of reference and budgetary responsibility wherever possible.

 

 

Product Management is an activity of ‘product’ ownership from Product Conception to Product Withdrawal. It is without any doubt an essential business discipline whereby the Product Manager is analogous to the conductor of an orchestra - without the conductor, uncontrolled pandemonium sets in with each instrument fighting to be heard in continuous cycle of disarray’. Cross functional process management and an attitude of "making it happen" are key attributes of the Product Manager. Fundamentally the Product Manager must also have both authority and status to carry out the function in the first instance, otherwise he / she will assume the role of a co-ordinator and be completely bypassed when important decisions are needed and required, which is certainly not a desirable outcome.

 

 

The Product Management process ensures that sufficient attention is devoted to the Planning , Development and Marketing of each product within the portfolio.  A Product Manager’s function is one of liaison between the various functional departments of the company to ensure optimum co-ordination of their activities and hence maximise their particular product's contribution to over-all profitability. The ability of the Product Manager to enlist support from the functional disciplines within the organisation is a key success factor.

 

It is important that the product management activity operates within the boundaries laid down in the company Strategic Plan and as such is an integral part of the marketing function. A key objective of a Product Manager is therefore to plan and specify a product / product portfolio in line with the long term strategic plan - whereby Business Plans are a fundamental part of this process. Proposed products must provide good synergy within the overall product portfolio i.e. product variants must be planned in accordance to meet market needs (Time to market) and within the scope and capabilities of the company.

 

 

 

Key Product Manager Activities...

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  • Continuously monitor market needs and requirements, taking into account future technology / developments, competitor products/services and the changing requirements of regulatory bodies.
  • Produce and own the Product Business Plan.
  • Strategically manage and own the product / product portfolio from conception to product withdrawal.
  • Define and create application packages that bring together products from more than one product portfolio and provide innovative customer solutions.
  • Manage the product creation process by chairing multi disciplinary business teams. The emphasis of this activity is to chair the product business team and not to facilitate in problem solving at this meeting. The product business team will meet regularly to review all business goals / objectives taking corrective action wherever and whenever possible.
  • Provide sales support material i.e. develop and produce training material (Audio visual presentations, product ordering procedures, technical data sheets, handbooks etc.)
  • Plan, organise and participate in product product release presentations - both internal and external to the company.
  • Monitor and control product development budgets.
  • Produce technology Road Maps for the product / product portfolio.
  • Develop and maintain pricing policies for the product.
  • Develop and monitor critical success factors for the product in line with the product business plan.
  • Plan and manage the product release.
  • Develop the after sales support policy for the product - Service philosophy, Spares listing, recommended test equipment, maintenance programmes etc.

 

 

To successfully carry out the product management function a Product Manager must be given the appropriate responsibilities, accountabilities and command the…

 

  •  Appropriate Knowledge and Understanding
  •  Authority to make decisions
  •  Command respect from his / her peers

 

In addition to the above the Product Manager will achieve their own objectives by duteous helpings of interpersonal skills, influence and persuasion.

 

 

 

Product Manager Core Competence

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From our own research the primary elements of product success will heavily depend upon the following being in place;

 

a) Product Manager Core Competence

b) The Product Management Cultural Environment

 

 

The above can then be divided into related sub elements and appropriate measures set (which may be specific for your own markets) as follows:

 

Product Manager Core Competence - defined and measured by the following sub elements;

 

1.Specific Product Knowledge, Understanding & Talent

2.Programme Mgt. (Multi-Disciplinary) the ability to manage multidisciplinary teams

3.Understanding and belief of  Vision, Goals and Objectives

4.Strategic / Marketing / Financial  Mgmt. Principles and Practice

5.PM Perceived Level of Authority

6.Management Soft Skills and Personal Motivation

 

 

A suitable plot can reveal whether the above criterion is being appropriately addressed…

 

 

 

Situtional Problems

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The role and specific tasks of the ‘Product Manager’ (PM) is however many and interactively complex and this often leads to nebulous definitions (terms of reference) as to what the product management role entails. This ultimately causes confusion to both the individual product manager and the rest of the organisation as to what the role of a PM is employed to achieve. Without a suitable process to follow, the Product Manager is left to work out the role for themselves and this often leads to a heavy bias toward specific areas of personal interest. Needless to say managing in this ad-hoc manner will often lead to ‘time to market’ and or ‘strategic alignment’ problems which collectively and adversely affect the chances of an otherwise successful product offering.

 

 

 

 

Portfolio Management

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Critical Success Factors

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Best practice ‘Product Management’ requires a thorough and pragmatic approach to this important discipline. The PMM process offers a proven generic framework for Product Managers to work within; however there are prerequisites that must be taken into account if PM’s are to deliver on expectations. The role (terms of reference) of the Product Manager can differ greatly between companies and associated market sectors, although there are generic similarities. One of the most common traits of successful PM’s is that they are seen and respected as the product champion with an appropriate level of authority to make things happen.

 

The PMM process is designed to help / guide the Product Manager in their task but should not be viewed in isolation and must be complemented with a multi-disciplinary approach (with representatives of all functional areas of the company) to the management of products. It should be noted however that managing across the functional areas of the company requires a certain presence and authority (perceived or otherwise) or by default a ‘co-ordination’ role results. The importance of crystal clear PM responsibilities cannot be overstated. Without clarity and equally suitable ‘terms of reference’ it will undoubtedly promulgate confusion over the individual’s role and accountabilities. For example it is not uncommon to find Product Managers operating as ‘technical sales’ representatives for their individual products which in turn results in short term reactive commercial strategies (…or not at all!) with disappointing  results.

 

The above is compounded by Product Managers who do not have any direct reports across the functional areas of the company and as such ‘management soft skills’ become a prerequisite part of core competence. Taking the above into account there are specific critical success factors that directly impact into the effectiveness of Product Management activities and therefore have a bearing on whether the product eventually becomes a resounding success or a degree of failure.

 

 

 

 

 

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