Product Management: The Executive Secret Weapon

November 04, 2015

The product management function is often a misunderstood and underutilized role. In fact, there are more than 60,000 Internet searches each month from people trying to understand that role. But executive leaders who learn to rely on their product teams will discover they have more time and capacity to focus on strategic efforts rather than on day-to-day operations.

Product management is involved with the entire product lifecycle, ensuring that business, user and technology needs are met. The team communicates regularly and transparently with stakeholders. Successful product management teams have enough experience, reason and intuition to recognize innovative opportunities when they present themselves.  

They understand the user and their desires. They research the viability of different business opportunities and understand the feasibility of different technical solutions. They then identify the opportunities for innovation where these three areas intersect.

In short, product management leads, advises and counsels during the process of defining a product’s strategic direction while ensuring that the needs of business, user and technology are realized. Product managers lead their teams—through trust and open communication—to achieve the desired outcomes.

While executive leaders are responsible for establishing the vision and direction of an organization, guiding decision-makers toward desired objectives, product managers lead from the middle, driving daily decisions that transform the executive’s vision into action. Not only do product managers understand how to make things happen, they promote efficiency and effectiveness by helping to form what the end results ought to be and knowing how to work with people to achieve results.

Executives sometimes underutilize product management because they either haven’t had experience with the role or they haven’t had a competent person to rely on. So, how can executives do better? They can delegate and empower their product teams with the responsibility and authority to make product–related decisions. If the product teams feel trusted, their confidence will increase. With increased confidence, their skills will improve, along with the quality of their work.

At some point, there may be a (somewhat intimidating) realization that product management is more influential or critical to the product development process than the executive leadership. This is a positive indication of trust and empowerment. The executive leadership team can then uniquely lead, guide and ponder the broader direction of the organization instead of focusing solely on execution and delivery.

Without the unique position of the product management function operating across and collaborating with so many functions (marketing, technology, design, etc.), an organization’s mission and objectives would be almost impossible to achieve. Technology would end up leading strategy, design would not be user-centered, and product launch would become a leap of faith.

But not just any product team will do; it’s critical to enlist product managers who “get it.” To find out how yours measure up, ask yourself the following questions.

  • When was the last time my product managers brought an innovative idea to my attention?
  • Do my product managers alert me to risks that may arise?
  • Do my product managers and I understand how the product will benefit our organization in the
    next three years?
  • Do my product managers and I understand how the product will benefit our users in the next
    three years?
  • Do I perceive technology “wagging” the strategy “dog”?
  • How frequently do my product managers and I interface with team members to ensure that the best ideas are heard?
  • Where can communication be improved?
  • What can I do to further empower my product managers to make decisions?
  • Do I provide general direction or do I stay involved in the day-to-day details?
  • Do my product managers almost always agree with me?

By understanding the product team’s role and ensuring it is properly staffed and empowered, executives can elevate their products and their overall organization.

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