Product Management is not a perfect science and requires frequent reviews to ensure your organization is working towards a common goal, creating products that are valuable, usable, and feasible. I wish I could say that it is easy to develop a ‘one size fits all’ strategy, implement a roadmap and deliver in a timely fashion, but anyone that works in product management, particularly in enterprise technology, knows that it’s virtually impossible. There are a few areas that I would like to share my insight to help improve your chances of success in product management in the present climate.
You cannot be everything
Here is the theory, you can be the product owner, and the sales lead, and the program manager of your projects and be successful. The reality is, these three roles are very distinct in their responsibilities, and while you can crossover into a domain that is not your expertise, don’t confuse it with thinking that you are the best person to do it.
These roles have skill sets that are honed over years of education and practice. You may jump into one of these roles for a minute and experience some success, but unless you have a track record of proven outcomes in this role, your success might simply have been a good fortune. The best product owners leverage the people that have these skills in their team, instead of attempting to serve in the role themselves. There is nothing better than watching an expert take your product and sell it with the skill and passion needed to convert a sale.
We should encourage accountability by role throughout the entire life cycle of a product. When you see individuals who continuously crossover and try to take on a position that does not belong to him/her, reset them. Keeping your team focused on their individual role is key to success. If not, chaos ensues, and you are accepting a lower level of productivity.
Customers need clear, focused, and dependable communication that can be delivered by the right person at the right time, especially in today’s business climate. Make sure your team members stay in their lane. Product Owners manage products. Sales Managers manage the sales process, and Program Managers manage the program. If you find yourself constantly straying into a role that you do not actually hold, I suggest you consider changing roles and stop reinforcing the chaos.
Another area where things can quickly go awry is if you diversify your product set so much that you lose sight of your core competency – what you are known for in the market and what pays the bills. There is no doubt that you must continue to innovate and grow to maintain your market position, but if you focus more on delivering new products that do not align with what you are known for, you will struggle.
Deliver, Deliver, Deliver
I can not overemphasize how important it is to deliver on your commitments. Whether it be a proposal, a roadmap, a piece of functionality, or just a response to an email, it is so important to be known for delivering on your commitments. There is a tremendous amount of competition the market and customers rely more than ever on their partners, keeping their promises. There is nothing worse than generating excitement through sharing a strategy and year over a year having to make excuses around why you have not delivered on it.
There is an old fable of the boy who cried wolf that feels very appropriate to this topic. Customers no longer buy into a strategy when they hear the same thing over and over. But without the results to show, your credibility diminishes, and when you do eventually bring something to market, you may well have lost your audience entirely.
Teamwork makes the dreamwork
It is true. There is no ‘I’ in a team. However, this simple philosophy seems very hard for people to accept. It took some time before I realized how critical it is to have all your organization closely aligned to deliver a product strategy successfully. Yet another fundamental practice that is commonly overlooked.
It is the role of a product owner to navigate discussions between key stakeholder groups to ensure complete alignment across the business. Letting groups plan in a vacuum can lead to disaster. In a true agile methodology, production partnership with the commercial stakeholders drives priority— the end.
If your product management team is not participating in the technology team’s daily stand- ups, backlog refinement, and sprint planning, you are doing it wrong. The only way you will be able to influence and manage expectations is to participate. If your technology team is working behind closed doors and prioritizing work without you, you will fail.
I have intentionally touched on some very complex topics for a reason. These areas often get tip-toed around to avoid confrontation but are some of the most critical places where change needs to be addressed.