Friday, January 19, 2007

We need more VPs of Product Management

This will be a short post/rant to begin my series.

I’ll start of with the conclusion and then loop back and explain my reasoning: Every company that ships products and has VP Marketing, should have a VP Product Management too. Why?

Product Management (PM) as a function has evolved over the years. Certainly it is becoming better understood within organizations as time goes on. But…as I look at many organizations out there, it is still one of the most the most misunderstood functions in the company, and often poorly leveraged as a result.
In some organizations, PM is still a part of the engineering group (mmm…). This may work in some rare instances, but in most cases – it is a failing proposition. Engineering’s charter, although critical of course :-), is too narrowly focused to properly encompass all of PM’s duties, and ensure that the group is serving the company as best it can.

We are not all off the hook yet.

Here is what I typically see as the status quo today though – it is the situation where PM is embedded within the marketing group - reporting up to the VP of Marketing. In smaller companies, with limited budgets, products, and funding - this works – as you get larger though (with more complex marketing and product deliverables), I start to see problems. PM being in Marketing simply does not put the group in the best position for success. There are a couple of reasons for this:

- In many cases, I see the VP Marketing and their organization are more focused on marcomm, PR, lead generation, product marketing (different to product management) etc – than on pure product management. Bring this VP Marketing into an executive meeting and product questions arise, it is often not he/she answering these questions, but the VP of Development (wrong!) Again, this is not the case across the board for every company, but I have seen it more frequently than less. And you know what the funny thing is - I don’t really blame the VP Marketing for stumbling sometimes! In my view, taking on all the classical marketing functions AND product management is becoming way too much for many marketing organizations today.
- PM is a 'hub' role – it sits at the center of the ‘product wheel’ and makes sure all the spokes are running as efficiently as possible. PM touches many parts of an organization. Marketing is just one of them. PM is also deeply involved with Development, QA, Sales, Legal, Finance, Tech Operations (if you are a SaaS company), Support, Services – and the list goes on and on. Marketing interaction is just one of the small pieces, (although critical, lets not reduce the value) in the PM’s world. Having the PM in the marketing organization does not put the group in the best position to efficiently drive cross organizational communication in my view. Separate it out and give it the identity it deserves.
- Executive visibility. To my first bullet above, if you are shipping products – then products are the life-blood of your company. Take away your products, and the company does not exist. Why put PM in the marketing organization if products are so critical? As a CEO, wouldn't I want someone reporting directly to me with a deep deep focus on product strategy and the success of my products?

Which leads me to my summary above – we need more VPs of Product Management. Since PM is such a critical ‘hub’ function in an company, it needs the benefit of a being its own organization, with strong executive visibility (through the VP Product Management who reports to the CEO). This structure better positions PM to more effectively collaborate across multiple groups - without the danger of competing marketing or engineering agendas hurting it. And most importantly, reporting directly into the CEO also gives the CEO the strong visibility they need into product direction, and puts PM in a better position to ensure they have the exec visibility for continued success.

So CEOs, VPs of Marketing – think about this. Are you putting your organization in the best position for success? Is your marketing organization trying to take on too much? If so – look into splitting that PM organization out and establishing a VP of Product Management. And, if as a CEO you think it will give you too many direct reports – ask yourself – have you best structured your organization to succeed? Aren’t products after all what make my company and help feed my employees and their families? Let’s get more VP Product Management roles out there.

That’s it for now – thoughts and comments welcome.


Steve Johnson said...

I concur--as noted in

The truth is that who we report to shouldn't matter... except that it does. We should all put the company's interests first... except that we don't.

For more on executive and team dysfunction, also check out The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni. Excellent view of the typical exec team.

Marcella said...

Good post.