Product Management Trends - Part 4 of 4

Question: If all the approaches other than the Methodology approach are invalid (or broken to some extent) how do we incorporate the notion of success?"

In the Methodology approach to product management and according to the Blackblot PMTK Methodology™, success in product management is measured by the level of satisfaction the buyers and users have with the product. This means that the buyers have their market problem satisfactorily solved and that the users are provided with ample product functionality to complete their required tasks.

The Business and Generalization approaches to product management incorrectly measure success in product management by the product's profit and loss (P&L) results. This is flawed because P&L is a measurement criterion that is reserved for the executive management, who have corporate authority, responsibility, and accountability for all of the company's monetary matters and financial performance.

The Technology approach to product management primarily deems the product's technical sophistication, large feature sets, and the employment of advanced technologies as a measure of product success.

Obviously each approach to product management has a very different and subjective concept of success which it tries to maximize and incorporate into its process and thinking. 

Question: "I have heard it said that product management isn't about a certain role or set of roles with tightly defined responsibilities, but rather it is about whether or not the general concepts of product management are applied within the company by a variety of different roles. So in the case of Google (I am making this up a little) it would mean that as long as someone advocates for the customer and someone understands value, it matters not whether they are also coding the product or testing the product, because as long as that perspective is represented it equates to Google doing product management. I have heard people describe it that way."

The reality is that companies always perform product management in some form even if it is done unofficially. In practice, whether officially or unofficially, product management is actually introduced and applied in a company from its outset. Sometimes product management is done haphazardly and sometimes in a more organized manner.

So companies can very loosely and fluidly institute product management among different roles but the result is often a highly inefficient practice that lacks strategic thinking and real market sensing. 

However, it is possible to deliver winning products and be very profitable while still being highly inefficient and only technically focused, although the overall probability of success is diminished.

Lastly, Google has a one very profitable product which is the search engine. It would be incorrect to make any sweeping assumptions about a particular approach to product management, based on one company's (e.g. Google) practices.

Question: "Personally, I think that dispersing product management is a flawed perspective, but honestly I haven't decided if that is because I like clean definitions that I can rely on when I need them. When the roles are not defined clearly, it makes it harder to know who to rely on for certain information or in certain situations. It seems the only way to successfully implement product management is to have a clear role un-muddied by other responsibilities that might cloud their perspective or judgement - they should be free to focus exclusively on the customer for example."

This is correct. The only way to successfully implement a structured, efficient and strategic form of market-driven product management is through the Methodology approach.

The Methodology approach to product management theoretically has a higher chance of achieving marketplace success than the Technology and Generalization approaches.

Question: "If all of these companies are implementing an inefficient or invalid approach, how can we explain success? Or do those approaches produce just enough success to validate the approach?"

Success is a very subjective matter. Usually companies define their own metrics that express success.

Generally speaking, all financial metrics are the responsibility of executive management, marketing metrics (market share, customer bases, awareness, recognition) are the responsibility of marketing, technical excellence is the responsibility of engineering.

The Business, Generalization, Technology and Methodology approaches to product management can all potentially bring about success. The difference lays in how the metrics are defined, the probability of success, and the efficiency of process.

Question: "If there is a right approach, it would seem that utilizing it would produce the most value. Just like we would invest money in making the right product so that we could capture the most value from the market it, it seems companies would be clamoring to implement the right approach to product management because it would provide the best value in terms of building great products. Do you look at it as an awareness issue, a slave to the past issue, an issue with the perceived value of different approaches, a control issue, or another option?"

The reasons companies continue to employ a specific approach to product management, even though they strongly sense that it is not optimal, are because of a lack of awareness to other product management approaches, workplace politics, budgetary concerns, and entrenched traditions.

In addition, the Technology and Generalization approaches are easy to apply, explain and are broad enough so that most generic, business, and development topics would somehow fit in with no criteria to judge if it is correct. 

Consequently, there are vendors in product management that promote and perpetuate these approaches with the added benefit that there is no acrimonious conflict with the companies if you teach or mentor companies on something familiar that they had already adopted.

For more information about this topic see The Dichotomous Future of Product Management article.