Product Management – Way Too Sexy?

First starting with the un-sexy

When I first started in product development back years ago in a bank, I was a Business Analyst but essentially doing the role of a Product Owner in today’s apparent agile practice, deciding and managing the entire construction of various payment products from internet banking right to getting payment to the other side of the world.

Not sure if you would call it waterfall or agile hybrid but hey we launched a brand-new business unit with various products in a seven months with a new partner bank - good for a launch and good enough for our beta customers.

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But times have changed …

Guitar Photo by Steven Erixon on Unsplash

Indeed, product management has manifested in various forms with the introduction of agile and emphasis on being digital first today and how digital might demand its own type of professional, i.e someone who has a keen focus on online experience.

This has then sparked off a notable trend of organisations who look to product managing digital assets, for example: website, mobile app as a total separate discipline from the long-standing business model. Also having chatted with some other product folks, it seems the digital (only) way of product management has made its roots across the corporate landscape into a widespread syndrome.

So .. what do I mean by that?

In a digital world, it is important to place emphasis on an online experience but it almost feels like putting the pointy end of marketing funnel on steroids by attaching a bunch of driven and passionate product people.

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Photo by Andrew Neel on Unsplash

That looks like… having product people managing the online presence only vs product managing a product line (the pricing mix, the online features, the fulfillment model..etc).

 Wait, isn’t the former known as a website manager or marketing manager back then?

To help us relate, I am just going to use website as the main example of this article.

Again, don’t get me wrong, just in case you think that I am disputing the value of a good digital presence. Website is serious business as we know it today with people expecting quicker and better experiences. So, it feels ever more important to get it right especially with the complexities of various systems powering it but I also question if it takes a stack of product people to polish the shine on one website.   

Dipping right into digital ways of working

In current practice, what does it look like in a traditional organisation with a newly created product structure to prioritise digital assets?

It means you might have a few product people working across a website at any one point in time, having them take on a very development centric view and being perceived as a development shop than anything else. This is as simple as outlining the cost of development vs benefits of having that development in dollars. That sounds all reasonable.

However, product managing is not just about deciding on development and only development. Creating value for the business and customers can stretch across various aspects such as:

·       Management of features through development. It could be your good old website, the ever shiny mobile app, an email or some form of digital documentation

·       Fulfillment (example: relationships with internal teams, external partners or vendors)

·       Commercialisation (how you go to market, how you construct a price, how you create product ladders.. )

Now, coming back to website development with different product people having different KPI. You may not necessarily begin with the intent of achieving a cohesive end to end customer journey, though with the interference of a lead or various parties through a series of meetings, you will get there. Sounds agile. Really?

The reason I question it is because I wonder, when that interference happens, what does it mean for self-organised teams with autonomy in the holy grail of being agile – would you truly have autonomy?

Note: I don’t dispute that sometimes a product person needs to respond to hierarchy through decision made by leadership – in the case of “just freaking do it”. The “just freaking do it” happens all the time but my thoughts are it should not just be as narrow as overcooking the user interface and playing that tech actor each time. Quite honestly, how often do you buy a product for its awesome online experience with exorbitant pricing?

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When it falls …

What happens if we realise the structure of aligning product teams to a part of digital asset does not serve well?

You may end up farming work out to other teams regardless of using the original organisation structure of one product team for one part of the journey. Forget about whether the structure is for a good or bad reason.

That change of position defeats the purpose of product management because you as a product person will need to rebuild the knowledge to decide what to iterate and how to do it quickly. It loses the continuity of true product management because knowing the product construct helps you quickly understand what levers to pull.

Yes, of course learning new things is great. But remember …  you get the most value of a product person when you let them fester in a broad enough area, for long enough.

Digital assets form part of the product; they are not the product

No doubt, a digital asset is part of a product and must be done well enough.

But bear in mind, a digital asset is NOT THE WHOLE product.

Remember the last time you chose to cancel a product? It was probably because the customer service representative on the other end of the call did not really seek to address your enquiry or you no longer felt valued to stay on – in short the organisation did not really care once they got you on the hook.

Let’s be clear, these are touch points with customers, digital or not. And they matter.

That experience forms the part of your product and it constantly reminds customer of the value, so always wear those shoes as a customer even when you are a digital product person because seriously, that customer relationship stretches way beyond the user interface – it is about how you make them feel online and offline.

And try doing that even when it involves pushing some good ol’ boundaries as a digital product person in a large pond.

PS: My opinions are my own. I have deliberately steered away from calling a product professional a product owner or product manager.