What is Product Management?


what is product management

The Cambridge Product Management Network had a useful get-together this week to debate the question: what is product management? It was a fascinating source of insights into how things are done elsewhere. There was a range of job titles present and roles from "we have many PMs" to "I wear many hats, PM is just one role". There wasn't a consensus that the group had answered its own question, but along the way we covered the key elements. I suppose we could have referred to Wikipedia for an answer, but that isn't really the point.

It was often quick throwaway remarks that resonated most. "Product management is a team sport" was one example. NIHITO, or "nothing important happens in the office" was another.

The meeting had materials from Pragmatic Marketing, a product management training and consultancy company. As someone said, their PM Framework makes a very useful checklist from which to do a gap analysis for your organisation. Another similar company is the 280 Group. Both companies carry out annual surveys on Product Management. The most up-to-date is the 280 survey from August 2009 (the Pragmatic one for 2009 ought to appear in the next month or so). The 280 survey had 675 respondents. It seemed to cover a range of smaller to larger companies (the average revenue turnover was $114M) and different software business models (B2B, B2C, etc). Respondents opted-in and so the majority of them had a dedicated PM - in fact more than 3 PMs was the majority in nearly 60% of replies.

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My chief interest in these surveys? To answer two questions: (1) how busy are these PMs and (2) what tools do they use to make themselves more productive.

The answer to (1) isn't very surprising - over a third (36%) look after 5 or more products and the average is over 3 products. That begs the question "what makes a product" and the short answer is that it is anything that requires a design trail (requirements, design, test) and an explicit release to users. In the vast majority of cases, that will pull in questions about product pricing, go-to-market strategy and product support, amongst other things.

The majority of them work long hours (>50 hours/wk) but much of their time at work goes on internal meetings. Over half (55%) go to more than 15 meetings per week (that would correspond to 2 working days per week just sitting in the meeting, let alone prep and action follow-up time). Over a third (35%) go to more than 20 meetings. There is still a mixture of waterfall and Agile methodologies used, on a roughly 60:40 split in favour of non-Agile. The typical number of software releases per year that the PM has to manage is 4, but it tends to be lower (2 is the mode) rather than higher.

The answer to (2) wasn't very promising for specialist software tool vendors. The vast majority of PMs use Microsoft Office (Excel and Word) to capture and manage product requirements. Some are using Wikis. There hasn't been a lot of investment in tools - 80% hadn't bought any software. Very few of those that had bought were highly satisfied with the benefits. Of those that had not, there was a fairly equal split between those that saw no need and those that would like tools.

What sort of tools? The top needs were seen to be tools for defect / bug tracking and requirements management. Other needs were tools for analytics reporting and customer community setup. There was also a need for better release planning support.

My gut reaction is that most of the companies at the CPM meeting were traditional B2B product companies starting to integrate social media into their marketing mix. We didn't explicitly talk about tools so I suspect but don't know that they would agree with the survey findings above. To me, it seems tools offer relatively easy ways to claw back the lost time that makes us unproductive and to reduce the extra work burden caused by the downsizing and the hiring freeze.

There is definitely a lot of PM value in the message "get out and meet the customer" and that includes virtual encounters such as communities and customer portals. But, if we're not in control of the traditional product lifecycle, it doesn't seem likely that new social media will make it much easier. In fact, it will just add to the effort required in many cases.

Providing a solution for Product Managers is one of the reasons we build CogniDox and our users confirm to us that we have something significant to offer for managing reviews, gate process, design sync, multi-team development, change requests, release management and customer/community portals.

Despite that, the range of the PM role as revealed at meetings and surveys like this remind me that it is a multi-faceted, sometimes intangible, and evolving role; so no room for complacency.

The value of DMS for Product Development

Tags: Product Management, Document Management and Control

Paul Walsh

Written by Paul Walsh

Paul Walsh was one of the founders of Cognidox. After a period as an academic working in user experience (UX) research, Paul started a 25-year career in software development. He's worked for multinational telecom companies (Nortel), two $1B Cambridge companies (Ionica, Virata), and co-founded a couple of startup companies. His experience includes network management software, embedded software on silicon, enterprise software, and cloud computing.

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