Ask virtually any person inside your organization what the value of product management is and you’re likely to get a series of different answers or even quizzical looks. This is ironic, because product management is critical to company success. Although no one inside the organization wants to eliminate product management, few people can succinctly describe its value to the organization.
This begs the question, why is it so difficult for people to understand and communicate product management’s value?
The main contributor to this confusion can be traced to the lack of a body of knowledge to lay the cornerstone of the profession. Without industry-wide clarity on the profession’s core language, process groups, and knowledge areas, it’s easy to understand why product managers and extended team members struggle to describe product management’s core value proposition.
Another part of the problem is the way the product management profession chooses to illustrate the value of the function. The traditional — and commonly accepted — view of product management typically places the product management function at the center of a daisy wheel, the hub. Radiating from the hub is a series of circles. Each circle represents a different function — sales, marketing, and operations to name few. The product management hub is connected to the spokes by a series of double-sided arrows. These arrows represent two-way communication between product management and the other company functions.
The hub and spoke model highlights two distinct but interconnected aspects of product management. The first is product management’s primary function to ensure appropriate levels of communication between the various functional spokes, illustrated by the arrows in the diagram. The second aspect highlighted by this model is product management’s active work coordinating all of a company’s various functions in pursuit of their product objectives. This is illustrated by the neat arrangement of the surrounding circles.
The implied value proposition of this model is its emphasis on product management’s role in ensuring functional alignment and effective communication in pursuit of a company’s product goals. No one would argue that functional alignment and coordinated communication is important to the success of a product management organization, but this model only marginally touches on product management’s true value to the organization.
The true value of product management — and what makes it so critical to company success — is the function’s unique focus on creating and sustaining value throughout the entire product life cycle. This role in the organization clearly differentiates product management from all other functions. For instance, project managers focus on successfully managing projects to completion across one or more stages of a product’s evolution throughout the life cycle. Business analysts are actively engaged in the upfront analysis of business problems, requirements gathering, and documentation. Only the product management organization is responsible for optimizing product performance throughout the entire life cycle of a product — from conception to retirement.
In the next post I’ll propose an alternative model that keeps the focus of product management’s role squarely on value creation.
Greg Geracie is a recognized thought leader in the field of product management and the President of Actuation Consulting, a global provider of product management consulting, training, and advisory services to some of the world’s most well-known organizations. Greg is also the author of the global best seller Take Charge Product Management. He is also an adjunct professor at DePaul University’s College of Computing and Digital Media where he teaches graduate and undergraduate courses on high-tech and digital product management.