The Product is the Organization

This blog’s title says: The Product is the Business. The User Problem is the Essence of the Product. Let me give it a twist: The Product is the Organization. Your team’s coordination defines your ability to deliver the Product.

As hinted in my previous blog post, your ability to design a proper organization is key in leading a successful product business. The Product Management craft is getting more momentum now, than when I started writing this blog. But throughout the encounters with other entrepreneurs and my own experiences, we’re still a long way there.

A few misconceptions I’ve seen:

The CEO should never be the CPO

In the past years, I’ve seen more and more people saying “The Product Manager is the CEO of the product”. Interesting, even though not entirely true (a PM would not decide on who to hire/fire, where to invest,…).

Now one thing is for sure: the CEO should never be the Product Manager, or its C-level counterpart. Especially as the CEO has just far too many things to do, he cannot focus on building a great product. He definitely holds the vision, and should drive its business according to it, as well as feed product management with it. But the CEO should support all of its organization, help them all, and empower product management to raise his “baby”. PM is some of the most time-consuming activities in a Product organizations, especially as it is here to make sure all pieces fit together, without slowing down everyone else. A CEO simply doesn’t have time for this.

Product Management is not Marketing

Marketing is a fully spec’ed domain, with its own set of expertise, roles, responsibilities. It’s not because product management is getting closer to the market that they’re the ones doing “marketing”. Marketing includes branding, collateral design, events management, online ads, social media, content management, marketing automation… And so much more. Plenty of activities and domains to staff a full team on its own.

Of course, Product Management must tightly interface with Marketing, as they’ll be able to transmit the essence of the product, on which marketing will build its own communication strategy, content, partnerships. The one task where Product Management will be directly involved in marketing is content generation. Their market and product insight is the best asset for producing quality content that will appeal to readers.

Product Management is not Product Ownership

This is true when we’re linking the “Product Owner” term to Scrum. The Product Owner role is only part of the product management job. Being a great Product Owner is a full-time job, and requires to focus on backlog grooming, and being side-by-side with the dev team, present at all scrum ceremonies. A Product Manager position requires a lot of contact with external people (customers, partners,…) which is simply incompatible with the rigid schedule of sprints and ceremonies. In small organizations, the dev team will have to face the unavailability of the person being both the product manager and the product owner.

But this is also generally true. Even though Product Managers often feel like “their” product is “their” baby, and that this is somewhat a virtuous relation, they’re not the only ones involved in raising it. And they should never be. It may require to work out some humility, but the full team’s input can contribute to building products. This is even more crucial as the entire team should think in product terms and assimilate its nature in their daily work.

An ideal org chart?

There’s no real on-size-fits-all strategy here. Again, it will depend on what you’re providing as a solution to your customers. Depending on your product, your sales channel, your marketing strategy, your customer support requirements. However we should stop thinking in the old paradigm of plain R&D + Marketing + Sales + Customer Support (yes, I’m not listing admin or HR here, they’re more or less a given in any large enough business). A fifth department now needs to grow in all SaaS businesses: Product Management. It should be built with a team of product management experts, who, when the organization can grow, will be able to focus on interfacing with each of the 4 others.

  • R&D should have their product owner(s)
  • Marketing should have their product marketing managers, able to translate features into key messages, and accompany marketing teams in building content, events, lead generation strategies, rooted in a deep knowledge of the market.
  • Sales should have product pre-sales engineers, able to evangelize, build solutions around the product or configure it perfectly for the customers’ context.
  • Support should have customer success engineers, able to understand and embrace the customer’s specific context and problem. They should be the ones the customer will call just because it’s great to talk to them, because they’re their best friend in the professional world.
Featured image by Nathan Ceulemans

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