Over the last 20 years I have noticed the same cycle play out time and time again. Organizations of all sizes continue to undervalue the product management function until they face a moment of crisis. Typically this takes the form of a change of control, difficulty scaling, and an almost endless variety of other possible combinations.
This situation is understandable in organizations that are migrating from startup mode to a mid-sized organization as the CEO or founder was likely playing the role up until this point in the company’s evolution. However, it’s less understandable in organizations that have successfully achieved scale. Yet, it’s clear that organizations of all sizes continue to struggle effectively implementing successful product management organizations that truly drive value let alone implement a sustainable system that stands the test of time.
Clearly part of the problem is the lack of effective training for product managers. Normally product manager training tends to focus on a particular element of the process – for instance strategic planning or requirements development – rather than understanding how all the various pieces fit together into a working whole.
Another factor is the lack of academic training for undergraduates. This is not a solution in and of itself but what it would do is to help overcome one of the largest challenges – getting new product managers to utilize a common lexicon to describe what product management is and what it does.
Today, all the players in an organization tend to see product management from their own vantage, not unlike the fictional blind men who all touch an elephant only to describe the animal based upon the part they’re directly interacting with. This lack of agreement about the entire entity impedes successful implementation and contributes to its lack of sustainability.
The problem is further compounded by frequent and in some cases severe understaffing of the function, the continued comingling of product and product management, lack of fundamental product management tools, and effective leadership.
Ironically, none of these problems are insurmountable and can all be easily overcome. Well rounded product management professionals can make a tangible difference and significantly improve the performance of underperforming organizations.
But at the end of the day, what is it about the product management function that leads organizations to underappreciate it until they find themselves in a situation where they desperately need it?
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.