Process, Tools, Data, Collaboration, Communication, Visibility and Authority by Uday and David Fradin
We think these are the areas major challenges confronting the success of product management and product marketing. Let’s get stared with this dicussion first a definition of product management:
Product Management, as defined rightly or wrongly defined by Wikipedia is an organizational lifecycle function within a company dealing with the planning, forecasting, and production, or marketing of a product or products at all stages of the product lifecycle.
Usually, this process will be undertaken by a product managers sometimes called “inbound” with a focus on the product planning, development and validation and then “outbound” product marketing managers launching the product and ongoing or sustaining marketing.
In very simple terms, product managers (PM) listen to the market, keeping focus on buyers and users to conceptualize their existing and future needs. Internally, they work to develop the business case and secure resources, collaborate with engineering to ensure the solution being built meets market needs, and then in the role of product marketing manager (PMM) works with marketing and sales by providing them the things they need to get their job done successfully.
Status of Education and Training of PM and PMMs
Degree granting programs in product management are few. One is the University of Wisconsin, whose product management program was funded by the founder and supporter of product management, the former president and founder of Intuit, Scott Cook. University of California at Berkeley offers an executive program. Less than a half dozen other private organizations offer some kind of training to the over 1.x million product managers in the world (according to one LinkedIn search for people PM or PMM in their title).
As a result there are very few formal ways to create product managers and product marketing managers. Most have come from other roles like marketing, engineering, sales, or customer service. While learning and doing product management and product marketing is challenging, it also means that there are wonderful opportunities for PMs and PMMs to define the future of the profession.
According to a recent survey published by the 280 Group survey, 75% of companies said that the executives at their company did not have a good understanding of what Product Management is thus setting up yet another challenge.
As PM and PMM is still evolving so also are the tools they need to do their job.
We have interviewed more than a dozen product managers with various levels of experience and have found seven major challenges within which the right tools might help product managers and product marketing managers do their jobs better, faster and with higher success than today.
- Process / Methodology : The first major challenge is the process. Roughly 40% of new products fail in the market. There is debate whether an even greater percentage fails, with some estimates like from Garner product failure is seen as high as 80%.
Details notwithstanding, whether 40% or 80%, failure is a significant possibility for any new or existing product. Process doesn’t ensure success, but can help reduce the failure rate through checks and balances. This means that process maturity is key.
Many organizations have developed custom process standards based on their past mistakes. This is because industry standards are still being developed. However, similar to the Product Management Institute (PMI) organization, the Association of International Product Management and Marketing (AIPMM) has taken steps to define a standard product management process.
But that is only recently. PMI’s book of knowledge came out over 45 years ago. AIPMM’s just a year or so ago and their “Prodbok” has an independent chapter on Agile…sorta bolted on. And little mention of the digital transformation currently sweeping the business world.
There are other process frameworks from organizations like Spice Catalyst, 280 Group, Pragmatic Marketing, BrainMates, PDMA, BlackBlot, PivotalPM, SiriusDecision, and Adaptive Marketing. Each has a different process coming from the background and experiences of their founders. As a result, organizations have to give serious thought about which process might or might not work for them.
But the lack of a process results in the words of one of our clients “creating a culture of blame” for the product’s failure.
- Personal Assets (information on personal computer) : Most of the product managers today are using Office tools like Word, Excel, Powerpoint, and Email. Organizations use these tools to capture information before it is consolidated if ever. Other artifacts like competitive analysis, vendor analysis, cost analysis are also stored on personal desktops. Collaborative tools like Wikis, Share point, Google Docs are being used by few people. Given the amount of travel product managers do, organizations have bigger concerns about the risk of having important information in a decentralized location. There are risks of data loss, critical human resources going on emergency leave, or human error. Organizations need to take measures to make these assets that form the knowledge base of the product are available, created, and easily accessible by those who need it at the right time. And is the right, current and up to date asset.
- Unstructured data: If it is left to individual intelligence on how information is organized, artifact structure can become very complicated. Product managers who are personally organized try to create their own structure, while others within the organization have their own standards and conventions. Given the fact the information is distributed in various ways, either they will end up wasting good amount of time to keep the information structured or letting an unstructured format take precedent and wasting time looking for information including finding the most up to date information.
- Collaboration: There are many options teams can use day to day to work together. Chat, Phone, Video call (Skype/Hangout), and Webex/GoTomeeting are all popular. On top of these tools, teams often have their own collaboration platform, which means that collaboration in the chat, phone, etc spaces are not stored in the collaboration platform. This problem is not limited to only product management but sometimes within the the entire organization. The level of interconnectedness of any stakeholder is proportional to how serious the issue will be for a team. Without close and timely collaboration between all the stakeholders the odds of product failure increase.
- Communication: Email is still the number one tool used to communicate. There has been studies on the side effects of overusing email. Despite the many issues, organizations rely on this tool given that stakeholders are accustomed to it. Email is sometimes used as action tracker system a task it was generally not designed to accomplish. Many individuals prepare their to-do list from emails.
- Visibility: How many product management, directors, and VPs have visibility on what their team members are working on without their personal efforts? How much visibility do product managers get on product development and go to market activities? Many are perhaps working on quarterly deliverables with monthly reviews. For example, PMs that create market research with errors may only be captured in when being reviewed. These product managers, as a result, lose an opportunity to seek the input of their team. As a result, strategic decisions might sit in wait mode while these reviews happen. Since business dynamics are so fast, more visibility and transparency are necessary to make it easy for organizations to adapt to rapid change.
- Lack of Authority: Influence is the key to overcome this challenge. But what else can product managers do to enforce a viable work product. RASCI documents the concept initiation stage, and makes cross functional teams clear on roles and responsibilities. It might have to be revised as when required. But many do not use this technique. Maintaining a structured way of working and being proactive forces cross functional team members to respect the workflow their product manager needs, and avoids counterproductive political issues.
Do you agree, disagree or can you add to these thoughts?
We are conducting primary market research to see if it makes sense to build a tool that will help you with your job.
Would you be willing to participate in an online survey to help us help you?
If so, we will share the survey results with you, give you one year’s free use of the tool if we build it and as a bonus give you a free coupon to take any online product management or product marketing course from Spice Catalyst for free (Worth $96 US). PS. We are making this offer to a limited number of people so please act now so you don’t lose out on this offer.