Breaking silos to become more innovative: why your organization needs a Product Manager
October 30, 2020, 5 min to read
Sundar Pichai (CEO Alphabet), Susan Wojcicki (CEO YouTube), and Marissa Mayer (former CEO Yahoo) are some of the most influential leaders in Silicon Valley, and share a common background. Prior to leading tech companies, they all held Product Management roles at Google and are responsible for the company's most innovative products. As Google’s first Product Manager, Wojcicki designed and built the company’s advertising and analytics products. Pichai oversaw the development of Google Drive, Gmail, and Google Maps. Mayer was responsible for the search products and user experience. Product Management has become a key to the success of tech companies and associated roles (Product Managers, Product Lead, Head of Products, VP Products, etc) are now becoming in high-demand in more traditional companies. As technology is transforming industries and customers expectations are increasing, there is a strong need for cross-functional leaders who can design and build products with both a user obsession and a data-driven approach.
The evolution of Product Management: from “Brand Men” to agile software development
Product Management dates back to 1931 when Neil H. McElroy from Protect & Gamble wrote an influential memo describing “Brand Men”. He outlined this modern role which was to manage each brand separately in all its aspects from advertising and promotions to monitoring sales. To achieve this, “Brand Men” were to conduct research to understand consumer preferences and behaviour. McElroy’s ideas shaped P&G as a brand-centric company but also influenced two entrepreneurs that he advised at Stanford, Bill Hewlett and David Packard. The founders of Hewlett-Packard implemented a similar organizational strategy focused on products with the importance of making Product Managers the customer’s voice within the company. In The HP Way, David Packard credits the “Brand Men ethos” for HP’s continued 50-year success which saw an annual growth of 20%+ from 1943 to 1993.
The consumer goods industry may have invented the concept of Product Management, but Silicon Valley took it beyond its marketing roots to apply its principles to software development. In tech companies, product development traditionally follows the long and complex waterfall process: every single feature of a product is detailed before being developed over many months, only to become obsolete upon delivery. The Product Manager came in as a way to reconcile the business objectives, the technological requirements, and a user-friendly design through a customer-centric approach. This breaks the traditional silos (IT/marketing/business/design/sales/customer support) to fit the new paradigm in which products need to be developed faster and continuously improved to respond to customers’ needs. Data is used as a way to shorten the feedback loop and agile methodologies to quickly adapt.
Product Managers are the cornerstone of agile organizations
A Product Manager is a cross-functional leader at the crossroads of business, technology, and design. The PM aligns the product vision with the business objectives and coordinates its design and technical architecture. The role requires both soft skills (emotional intelligence, negotiation, prioritization) and hard skills (analytics, technical, business). The Product Manager however is NOT the “CEO of the product” as it is not his product or his team and he is not hierarchically superior to the rest of the team. At the core, a Product Manager is more than a role, it is a mindset using a holistic vision to solve problems.
To sum it up, a Product Manager is a:
The PM is a product visionary translating business strategy into a product vision and a roadmap. He is also a user advocate representing the user’s voice from within the company and always putting experience first. The PM is also an analytics lover as he keeps track of key metrics towards business objectives.
The PM is at the crossroads of all teams and knows how to talk to all stakeholders involved in the product (designers, developers, marketers, etc) in their language. The PM is a negotiator managing internal expectations and top management decisions. The PM is proactive to quickly test and learn new user-centric features. The PM is a coordinator and a motivator making sure each person is involved and aware of their mission.
The PM is tech-savvy and understands how a product is built and can explain technical choices that have to be made. The PM is a sketch artist, able to quickly draw a prototype to test a feature. Finally, the PM is agile as adjustments have to be made often and quickly.
How can you get started in your company?
A client of ours once complained that it took their company 2 years to launch a mobile app, while a startup we had introduced to them delivered a better product in under 4 months. The answer was simple: the startup had no legacy to protect, no organizational constraints, a highly motivated team, and a great PM to envision and coordinate the development of the product.
So is the answer to hire PMs? As the tech ecosystem is growing worldwide, these profiles are becoming increasingly available but we strongly believe in upskilling or reskilling your talents. Whether they come from the business side of operations, are engineers or generalists, we can teach them the skills for this new role. This is how we came up with the idea of launching a Product Management Academy dedicated to corporates in our San Francisco office. We have been helping our corporate clients with their digital transformation since 2003. After developing Design thinking programs for Fortune 500 like Orange and helped companies like L’Oréal to scale their agile practices, we tare convinced the next step in becoming an agile organization is through training Product Managers.
If you are interested in Product Management and how it can transform your organization, feel free to reach out to us. You will be able to discover our PM Academy, read our client testimonials and discuss with our network of Product Managers.Contact us