Drive your New Product Management Team to Success

Congratulations! You now have the opportunity to lead a team of other product managers. Or maybe you want to position yourself as a contender for a leadership position and make a proposal.  What should be your first steps?

You already know about the constraints: your product managers are very busy, so any new team-building effort will have to come at the expense of something else. You are also aware that, when left to their own devices, most product managers will tend to neglect their strategic role and slide towards the tactical, which is not sustainable in the long term.

With this in mind, how can you build a great Product Management team?

Of course you need to carefully listen to all parties, as well as tirelessly communicate your plans. However, here are 5 values which can help you progress tremendously and, if applied carefully, can help you set the tone.

1) Collaboration between product managers: Most product managers work in isolations, ignoring what the other product managers are doing. They may be competing against each other (not a bad thing when kept in check, more on this later) unnecessarily for resources, the customer’s yearly budget as well as the sales force’s attention. Some may have found creative solutions to problems which other Product managers don’t even know they have. Clearly you need to get your Product managers to talk to each other. How can this be done?

  • Share what works and what does not. Have each product manager present to the group their  successes and a failures
  • Improve usage of and proficiency in company tools such as CRM, SharePoint, marketing portal and internal blogs to facilitate the exchange of information
  • Share important analyst/industry data to ensure the group shares a common view of your industry
  • Improve product linkages: Brainstorm on how your team’s products can leverage or integrate with each other or new possibility for creative packaging.
  • Encourage Product managers to review each other’s important documents, such as business cases, market positioning or even requirement specifications prior to releasing them outside the group.

No doubt this requires a big time commitment, and not everything has to be implemented on day one, but the productivity improvements will be compelling.

2) Inside/Outside Accountability: It is important that your product managers know what is expected of them and what is not. Similarly the rest of the organization must be realistic and crystal-clear about what it can expect from the product management organization. Constant sales support may be acceptable for a new product during a specified period. However when a product manager performs sales support for a mature product, it is a symptom of organizational dysfunction. Here are some actions which you can take:

  • Have each PM time their activity in strategic vs. tactical buckets so they come to their own conclusions.  Identify the tasks which could be handled outside of the group and define obtainable goals to outsource them.  Pre and post-sales activity as well as product support should be good candidates for an owner outside of the team.
  • Prioritization of resources and communication of the choices internally and externally.
  • Define what product management does and does not do and negotiate with outside teams how to handle a transition. That’s the hard part since many organizations think of product management as the place that does whatever is not accomplished by the rest of the company. You can use this as a first step.
  • Foster healthy competition between product managers by establishing fair rules and creating a climate of internal coopetition.

You should expect strong resistance from other groups who may not understand why all of a sudden you stop helping them. Your ability to focus on the strategic depends on your ability to convince them that it is not the role of your group.

3) Consistency of interfaces via process improvement: By enforcing a consistent interface between the product management team and each other department, the rest of the company will know over time what to expect when they interact with any member of your team.  Because your Product managers use the same types of documents, the same tried-and true-processes to accomplish well identified goals, the trust in your group‘s professionalism will improve. Here are some items which can benefit from better consistency:

  • All documents using a similar format
  • Rules about when and how to engage with sales, finance, billing, support, corporate, R&D, product marketing and customers
  • Business case process
  • Partnership management
  • New project prioritization process
  • Launch process and associated metrics
  • Requirement/Prototyping process
  • Obsolescence process
  • Win/Loss
  • P/L Tracking and Management

Basically, the concept here is that you want a consistent brand, brand message and brand delivery for product management.

4) Preparation: The crisis of the day is what makes you waste time. Anticipating crises is what will make your team get their heads above water and focus on the strategic.  By measuring what your Product managers do today, you can probably identify tasks that could benefit from preparation. Typical examples are:

  • Support, customers or Pre-sales FAQs
  • RFP: Database of answers to the most current questions
  • Product status reporting which includes risk and mitigation
  • Updated roadmaps and strategy presentations
  • Relevant industry and Customer data to present against non-fact-based opinions.

5) Innovation. Your Product managers are paid to be thought leaders who push the company forward. How can they do so? Here are several initiatives which you can drive with your team to be ahead of the curve:

  • Strategic Roadmap process
  • Win/Loss process
  • Idea management/prioritization/business case.
  • Innovation Off-Site Discovery sessions (basically a way to separate yourself from the office hassles to concentrate on innovation.)

Of course, much more is needed to run a group. However, these foundational values: collaboration, accountability, consistency, preparation and innovation should guide your group toward a better future.