Do You Need Product Management?
We work with many early stage startups in which the early and critical product phases including discovery, prioritization, specification and the later equally important product phases including product validation (am I getting the results I expected?) are either not performed well or sometimes not performed at all.
Sometimes the company feels that it doesn’t have the money necessary to fund a team of product professionals and attempts to limp along using the entrepreneur’s early vision with the help of some intrepid engineers. Sometimes the company feels that product professionals simply aren’t needed, even going so far as to cite agile methods as the reason (see later posts to explain why agile doesn’t eliminate the product manager position). Oftentimes the company just hasn’t had the opportunity to realize the benefit that a real product professional can offer to their product development lifecycle.
For those of you hoping for a quick and simple answer to the question above, we’ll give it to you right now: Yes – you need product management and you need to staff that team with product management professionals. Marty Cagan does a great job of describing what a product manager’s responsibility is here.
We are of the belief that building the right product is every bit as important as building the product the right way. The former is accomplished by having a disciplined product selection process that is informed by a professional product management team which in turn analyzes the customer needs, competitive landscape and strategic benefits of different options within the product portfolio. The latter (building it the right way) is an engineering responsibility informed but ideally not limited by the specifications that an professional product management team creates.
Equally important is the need for a product discovery phase. This phase is often ignored within many product development lifecycles and includes determining whether there is a product that can succeed within your target market as well as exploration on the topic of what that product might need to do to properly capitalize on the market opportunity.
Ensuring consistent vision through a single organizational owner of the product is yet another benefit to having a professional product management group early. Continuity helps ensure that lessons are both recognized and hopefully retained through organizational muscle memory. Evaluation of product results as measured within the business metrics creates a continuous process improvement feedback loop that helps grow those organizational muscles over time.
Finally, creating a sufficient backlog of product specs within an organization separate from engineering helps to ensure that engineers stay focused on creating shareholder value through implementation rather than specification.
So yes, you should have a product organization and yes they are a team separate from your engineering team. Build one now and help your company grow!