Something Is Not Right in Modern Product Management

The pattern is undeniable and utterly perturbing. Take for instance my typical consulting engagement. It starts off innocently enough: the product team is “underperforming” claims the C-suite, not delivering features “fast enough”, “missing their OKRs”, or ”the roadmap commitments are late or incomplete”. “Fix the product team”, they ask.


 

As a Product Management Leader, Coach, Consultant, Speaker, Author and Teacher, I have had the humbling privilege to rub shoulders with thousands of product professionals — from the aspirational to the legendary — across all levels and all types of companies and industries.

I have seen first-hand how a highly-skilled, empowered product team can unleash immense value for their customers and, in exchange, extract value for their business. Relentlessly pursuing opportunities and problems like bulldogs, and swinging their energies behind understanding and then delivering the right solution to address that opportunity.

I have seen selfless product managers celebrate their team’s accomplishments and recognize the contribution of others. All the while they’re taking the arrows, making tough tradeoff calls, and speaking truth to power. They understand how to influence, motivate, guide and sometimes drive those around them, including senior stakeholders.

I have seen innovative solutions dramatically shift whole industries, but let’s face it… 99% of products don’t come into the world quite like that. More commonly, dedicated product-thinkers and executors (product managers, yes, and entrepreneurs, intrepreneurs and our dedicated cross-functional team members) tirelessly grind out incremental value with utmost commitment for an end-customer that will rarely appreciate all that is going on behind the curtain.

But something’s not right in modern product management.

The pattern is undeniable and utterly perturbing. Take for instance my typical consulting engagement. It starts off innocently enough: the product team is “underperforming” claims the C-suite, not delivering features “fast enough”, “missing their OKRs”, or ”the roadmap commitments are late or incomplete”. “Fix the product team”, they ask.

It doesn’t take long as I pull on the thread to be led right back to leadership themselves. I find a combination of:

  • a failure in their own understanding, a common language or purpose of the role of product management;
  • a failure to provide clear expectations, skills development opportunities, and a career-growth path forward to their product teams;
  • a fear to allow product managers to independently draw their own conclusions through talking to customers versus an overweighting to short-term prescribed stakeholder, customer or sales demands (that’s utter madness);
  • a lack of appreciation of the need for validation and experimentation (and tolerance for an occasional failure) versus an obsession with scope and timelines;
  • little trust in and empowerment of the product management team to optimize for long-term enterprise value (which, fairly, the product management must then step up and hold themselves accountable to) versus short-term often changing objectives.

Don’t get me wrong — I am hugely optimistic. I’m no Eeyore.

It is unacceptable of us to simply lay the blame at senior leadership’s feet for failing to appreciate us, product professionals. I’ve found stakeholder education and espousing theory is insufficient. Instead, I start with thoughtful advocacy of core product principles, realignment of incentives and goals, careful selection of high-value areas to target, training and support for the team, and quickly demonstrating beneficial outcomes. Once any business leader sees how product management can be an engine for growth and value creation… the tide changes quickly!

But that’s one organization at a time. And I’m kind of exhausted.

Can you help me to scale it up?

At the Association of Product Professionals, we’re bringing clarity to the purpose and practices behind all product-oriented roles – at every level and in every industry. While we recognize that there is no one-size fits all in Product, claiming we can’t find common ground, common practices, common purpose is a cop-out!

Let’s align and unite industry thought-leaders on a common language and message. Let’s promote our profession to ensure understanding within all organizations of what we do and the value we can bring, if only we’re empowered to do it. Despite the many flavors of product manager, we’re clearer than ever before understanding the skills and experience you must acquire to advance your product manager career – and how to go about doing it. Let’s provide independent tools to comprehend and assess the competencies required to be successful – and seamless access to resources for product professionals to grow and be their very best. Let’s provide a unified voice to what product management can and should be to drive value in every organization.

It’s time to advance the profession of Product Management. Join us at APP!

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