Product Management Organizations

Where Does Product Management Fit in a Company

This might seem like a simple question but it is not.

There are three possible solutions that are generally implemented. Only one of these is the right way to go as a long-term solution. Sometimes the other two solutions can work over the short-term.

While considering this, remember that the Product Manager has a trifold part to play within an organization. They have to concurrently be a champion of the product; a champion of the customer; and a champion of the business.

3 Possible Solutions

The three candidates for the positioning of the Product Management function are development/engineering; marketing/sales; or as a standalone function. Let’s take a deeper look into the rights and wrongs of placing the function within each of these:

1. Development/Engineering:

It is true that a Product Manager must understand how to work well with the developers/engineers. They must be able to communicate effectively with them both in meetings and informally. They must be able to communicate requirements in a way that is unambiguous and easily understandable to both development/engineering and customers alike.

As a result, many companies put Product Management under the Development/Engineering department. This is not ideal as:

  • Placing the reporting lines into development/engineering tends to mean that the Product Manager role turns into a Project Manager role.
  • The Product Manager loses focus on the market place and the customer.
  • Instead their focus turns too much into the technical and requirements engineering.

2. Marketing/Sales:

Sound knowledge of marketing and sales is vital for any Product Manager. A Product Manager has to be able to carry out full market analysis; understand the market place; to formulate marketing strategies; to put together sales training; and be able to produce or understand the production of sales/promotional materials. As with the development/engineering team the Product Manager needs to be able to communicate effectively with marketing/sales teams.

However, having the Product Manager report into Marketing/Sales department has a negative impact on the role itself. Product Managers that find themselves in this position often find that:

  • They become part of the marketing/sales machine.
  • They spend the majority of their time training the sales force; presenting; and demonstrating the product.
  • They lose focus on the marketplace and the customer.

3. Product Management/Standalone Function:

Having the Product Management function as a standalone department, as a peer to the Development/Engineering and Marketing/Sales departments is the best long-term solution for most companies.

This ensures that the Product Manager is able to take a holistic view of the product. From an independent position. the product management function can form cohesive relationships with both other functions whilst keeping the business goals and customer needs firmly in mind. The Product Management function can be free to strategize for the future; find new opportunities; deliver the product that the customer wants; and align all they do with the business’ goals.

What about Startups?

At startup companies, having the Product Management function as a standalone department can be very hard due to lack of resources available.

In the short term, this can be mitigated by having the right person serve this role – such a person should be skilled across the disciplines of Product Management, Development/Engineering and Marketing/Sales. This must be done with the goal of forming a separate department in the medium/long term as the company grows.

Roles in Product Management

Product Management does not have a particularly well defined structure.

Many of the job titles are interchangeable and mean different things within different organizations. Large organizations may have dedicated Product Management teams with a VP of Product Management sitting on the executive board. Smaller organizations could just have a single Product Manager that carries out the full scope of roles for one product.

That said, here are the most commonly specified Product Management roles and what they actually entail.

Junior Product Manager

This role can also be known as a product analyst or an associate product manager. This role is generally taken on by a graduate that has just finished their degree.

They usually do not have overall responsibility for strategy. They will usually be tasked with owning single features in a product release. This would entail defining the feature; controlling the functional direction; writing the specification; and managing the feature through to release and beyond. They will also be given the opportunity to carry out benchmarking; market analysis; and competitive analysis. They may be mentored by a Product Manager.

Product Manager

The product manager role generally requires 3-5 years previous experience in a product management role. Degrees in Business and/or Engineering are the usual requirement.

The product manager takes on a bigger vision and more responsibility. They are normally responsible for the overseeing of all activities associated with the lifecycle of a particular product. Additionally they have to guide a cross-functional team to generate and implement new product initiatives and increase the profitability of the existing products. This may or may not be done under the supervision of a Lead Product Manager.

Lead Product Manager

This role usually requires 6-8 years’ experience of product management. Degrees in Business and/or Engineering are the usual requirement; additionally an MBA is sought after.

Lead Product Managers have largely the same responsibilities as Product Managers. In addition, their role involves managing/mentoring product managers, as well as taking a fuller role in strategizing and execution of the product roadmap for the short, medium and long term..

Director of Product Management

Also known as Director, Product Management this role usually requires about 10-15 years of experience in product management.

A Director of Product Management is likely to be responsible for a large proportion if not all of a product line. Responsibility here lies with creation of an overall strategic roadmap. They manage a team of Lead Product Managers, Product Managers and Junior Product Managers. They ensure that the Product Management process that is in place fosters activities that result in compelling products being produced.

VP of Product Management

Also known as VP, Product Management this role is a member of the of the executive team of the business. Considerable experience in product management and business is required for this senior role.

This is a strategic role that leads the definition, development, and implementation of the businesses product strategy. Often have direct responsibility for the profit and loss for every product in the business portfolio.