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Excellent article from Rich Mironov titled 7 Ways to Know That You Need a Head of Product.  Over the course of my career, I’ve seen each symptom and they can certainly be painful and frustrating to work through.  But the last paragraph brings the point home!

Like other functional specialties, product management needs leaders who recognize and reward great product work; who know how to hire/mentor/grow product folks; and who build executive-level support for doing the right things. Without seasoned product leaders, each individual product manager has to go it alone.

Check out the article for yourself … but here are a few additional favorite comments:

  • Without a hard-nosed product leader forcing tough trade-offs at the executive level, everything is our top priority … and there is no single escalation point [PH comment] – at one time, I was the product manager for a software suite inside of a company not generally known for producing software. It was generally given away to get the sale, and more often than not I competed with my internal Professional Services rather than competitors.  All because there was no Product Leader providing air-cover.
  • When hiring, engineering led units strongly favor developers … sales/Marketing-led groups focus only on segment SMEs … [and from a related article – Good (great) product managers bring a critical mix of technical talent, business insight and market/customer/user insight] [PH comment] – see my post on Seeking Product Managers
  • Product managers are being graded on productivity metrics (“did we ship on time?”) but not on good market validation (“will lots of customers pay us to solve this problem?”) [PH comment] – couldn’t agree more … if the product isn’t being used, and therefore isn’t driving revenue, what’s the point?
  • There’s no one at the exec level to negotiate more global role boundaries [PH comment] – just to put this into context … imagine having your COO make the point “The key to success in the future is the effectiveness of our product management professionals.” Now go back to my first comment about having no air-cover.  Which would you prefer?

But for me, the biggest benefit to having an executive who is championing Product Management is ensuring everything ties back to the overall strategy/vision. Market analysis/sizing, competitive intelligence, key/priority initiatives, product roadmaps … everything a Product Management leader is pursuing should tie back to the overall strategy … otherwise why are you pursuing it?

Without clear guidance and a link back to strategy, focusing solely on the needs-based requests of the customer or various portions of the organization will quickly bury you in the mire!  Not that these requests aren’t important, but as I discuss in my … Well Orchestrated Dance post there has to be a balance.

And like any dance, someone has to lead. And as Rich’s article points out, you don’t have to be an executive to take the first step.  I’ve made this point in previous posts … it’s not the title, or the perceived authority that comes with the role that defines leadership.  You are a leader when you start acting like one.