Product Management Trends - Part 3 of 4

Question: "You wrote that the Generalization and the Technology approaches are unsupported and lack methodological foundation, and thus they can be invalidated. I would like you to say a bit more about what makes them invalid."

The Generalization and Technology approaches to defining product management are idea-based and have emerged as reflections of people's workplace experiences. These two approaches are the result of people's natural inclination to conceptualize and frame their world view according to their own personal work experience.

However, to invalidate an idea-based approach it is incumbent to demonstrate that the approach is predicated on unsound reasoning.

The Generalization approach to product management (product manager does everything, aka CEO of the Product) lacks any role boundaries. There is arguably an endless scope of responsibilities to be tacked on the product manager because most anything in the company can be construed as being product related. Which responsibilities belong to product management and which not? This question cannot be answered definitively under the Generalization approach.

Unfortunately the Generalization approach lacks any guidelines whatsoever to frame and set a product manager's scope of responsibilities. There are no criteria to qualify, approve or deny any task or activity. Anything goes which renders the Generalization approach as inconclusive and a moot point. 

The Technology approach to product management is common to technology-driven companies and it views the product manager as part of product development, and subservient to the software development method. 

Technology-driven companies are dominated by technical people who may also hold executive management level positions within the company. These very technical people shape the company according to their own mindset and personal comfort zones.

For technical people, technical knowledge and technology are highly valued and considered the company's core competency. The focus of the company becomes product development, and in these technology-driven organizations, all company functions including product management, are there to support the engineers in their product development effort.

The Technology approach to product management that is employed at technology-driven organizations allows product development to strongly influence the role of product management. So in effect the engineers dictate to a certain degree what a product manager's job will be. 

This immediately raises doubt on the matter of qualifications and the possibility of a conflict of interests of technical people attempting to determine the responsibilities of a product manager, a role that belongs to another department outside of product development.

The resulting reality is that with the Technology approach, product management has no real identity and hierarchically is beneath product development.

Furthermore, the choice of a particular software development method by the development team has a detrimental effect on the product manager's role. This is demonstrably evident with Scrum, a lightweight software development method that is used by many companies.

The Technology approach to product management works well with Scrum, although not in the official Scrum guide or in any serious scrum book is it officially written and logically explained why and how product management is related to Scrum's product owner role.

Despite that, interpretations of the scrum backlog manager role (officially titled in Scrum as the product owner) have created a misguided overlapping of the product owner role with product manager role. This has provided a quasi-legitimate path for the product manager to be drawn into and become a part of the software development effort, thus preoccupying the product manager with technical and operational duties, instead of strategic ones.

In summary, the Generalization and Technology approaches are not the outcome of a deliberate resolution process that is based on the strong coupling of logical thinking and extensive research. This virtue is reserved to the Methodology approach.

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.