Product Management Trends - Part 2 of 4
Question: "I read your Dichotomous Future of Product Management article where you have identified four types of product management. Can you say anything about their relative popularity? Even if you don’t have hard data to show around the percentage of companies using each approach, some thoughts on the popularity of each would be interesting."
For a more accurate analysis of present day product management we need to segment the market into (1) technology companies that are primarily engaged in software development, and (2) technology companies that are primarily engaged in non-software product development.
The non-software product companies may develop some software, but often that software is integrated into the main core product and is only regarded as a feature enabler.
Software development companies, who use Lightweight Software Development (rebranded as Agile in 2001) and specifically those who subscribe to the Scrum software development method, are especially prone to conflate product management with product development.
The Technology approach to product management views the product manager as part of product development, and subservient to the software development method. This mindset fits in well with some Scrum interpretations and according to various research and industry reports over the last three years it seems that over 91% of software development companies use some form of Agile (predominantly Scrum).
It is therefore safe to assume that a very high percentage of at least 70% or more of software development companies employ the Technology approach to product management. Product managers at these companies are expected to be technically astute and indeed many are former engineers who perform a variety of activities that support product development and occasionally sales. Their main job focus is to determine product functionality and features and communicate these to product development. The question if product managers need to have software programing skills often comes up.
The Generalization approach to product management (product manager does everything, aka CEO of the Product) seems more dominant at the non-software product companies. This approach views product management as being multidisciplinary and multifaceted, and responsible for nearly anything and everything related to the product.
Based on our own internal combined experience and published surveys, we at Blackblot estimate that about 50% of the non-software product companies use the Generalization approach.
At very large software development companies that employ vast numbers of software developers, the Generalization approach to product management is very evident. Product managers at these big companies act as program managers and often have complete and overall responsibility of the product project, also owning all monetary considerations and project management. Our unsupported estimate is that about 25% of software development companies use the Generalization approach.
The Business approach to product management is heavily focused on the business aspects of the product with a broad emphasis on all related monetary issues such as metrics, costing, pricing, etc. Phrases such as "owning the strategy", "driving execution", and "profit and loss accountability" are frequently used in conjunction with this approach.
The Business approach is something we at Blackblot have seen mostly in professional services companies and product companies that deal with emerging technologies (electric vehicles for example). Use of the Business approach to product management seems to be concentrated in scattered geographical pockets in North-America, such as on the east-coast in the USA. This assessment is very anecdotal, unsupported and must be viewed as such. In addition, we have no data to indicate the percentage of companies using the Business approach.
The Methodology approach views product management as a professional domain which is governed by a set of foundation rules that are supported by cogent rationales and solid arguments. This approach is represented by the Blackblot PMTK Methodology™ which according to PMTK's second foundation rule, product management is a strategic (not technical or tactical) function that operates solely in the problem space.
According to various product management domain surveys over the last three years, the Blackblot PMTK Methodology™ is employed by about 15% of software development companies who participated in the surveys. However, this percentage is misleading because the surveys erroneously view a whole range of software development methods (Scrum, Kanban, SAFe, waterfall, etc') as forms of product management.
Accordingly, if we were to remove all software development methods from the product management surveys and recalculate the percentages, then we estimate that the results could show that the Blackblot PMTK Methodology™ or variants thereof are employed by about 30% of software development companies who participated in the surveys.
The principles of product management, as outlined in the Blackblot PMTK Methodology™, are universal. Accordingly, the Blackblot PMTK Methodology™ is used by non-software product companies, particularly by service and manufacturing companies in traditional industries such as banking, pharmaceuticals, bio-tech, military, instrumentation, and light manufacturing.
There are thousands of registered users of Blackblot Product Manager's Toolkit® (PMTK) in various organizations worldwide, from small startups to multinational corporations.
Accordingly, leveraging Blackblot's own information about the prevalence of PMTK and various product management domain surveys over the last three years, we estimate that about 10%-15% (one in ten) non-software product companies use the Methodology approach to product management in some form or another. But again, this assessment is very anecdotal, unsupported and must be viewed as such.
For more information about this topic see the Origins of the Product Manager vs Product Owner Dilemma and The Dichotomous Future of Product Management articles.