What are the challenges you have encountered establishing the product management function in product areas that do not have it？
One challenge I encountered as the product lead for a platform team was to identify the product management needs for some of the relatively technical product areas, such as Machine Learning and APIs. I had to justify these needs as many leaders and stakeholders felt that an eng manager or technical program manager were more suitable given their technical knowledge and depth. Realizing the fact that many platform areas are abstract and complicated to understand compared to some user facing features, I saw it was a great opportunity to bring awareness of the impact of platform product management. I redefined the vision, goals, customers and opportunities of the entire platform, and identified the challenges that engineering, operations and sales had been facing and how we can leverage product management to solve the challenges. In particular, the value product management brought to the platform team were to:
- Understand the big picture.
- Identify both user needs and internal teams’ needs.
- Effectively manage different types of stakeholders.
- Create short and long roadmaps that contribute to the big picture.
With the exercise I did, I was able to get additional headcount for my team on the areas I had identified, resulting in a 75% operational cost reduction with launching a ML platform in 6 months.
I touched on this a bit in previous questions, but some common challenges are:
- Perception that Product may slow the team down. Some teams are very execution-focused, which can be good, but it's easy for team members to not be able to see the forest through the trees, and potentially get into a situation where they may be doing too many things, or not being focused on the right things.
- Unclear or misalignment of goals or priorities - Product can add a lot of value but without a clear idea of the outcomes we are trying to achieve and the relative importance of various strategic priorities, it is easy to get in a state where the team is overstretched or not set up for success. Obviously Product has an important role to play in these decisions, but guidance and buy-in from leadership in these areas is essential for success.
- Mature leadership that sees the big pitcure and understands the time/quality/cost "iron triangle." Time/Quality/Cost are the 3 primary forces in a project. A good product manager needs to be able to navigate discussions around tradeoffs and opportunities with leadership and stakholders and achieve alignment - essentially challenges around ensuring the team is setup for success and what tradeoffs we need to be comfortable making to do so. Mature leadership understands these forces and can partner with Product to craft a coherent strategy to get to a desired future state. Inexperienced leadership demands all three and may have constantly changing goals or priorities ("flavor of the month.")
- Establishing Product in an area that I do not have expertise in. This one was the hardest for me personally because for the first decade of my Product career I was sucessful through competence. I knew my domain and product (mobile games) very well and had managed just about every facet there was on a game team. When I switched over to Platform product, I initially felt lost and questioned if if I could still be capable if I did not have competence in every area. Personally this was something I had to work through myself - what I eventually found was that most of the same product principles still apply: stakeholder management, defining the problem/sucess criteria, etc) but it was not essential that I have expertise in every area. My role was to build a team that did have expertise and empower them to help drive success. This was more of a personal challenge but probably the biggest paradigm shift for me as a Product Leader.
The biggest challenge comes from cross-functional partners (engineering, sales, marketing) who may not have prior experience partnering with PMs and aren't bought in to introducing the function. The real value of a PM is to have a dedicated resource thinking about what the highest-leverage activities fro the team are in service of the broader business goals and user problems, but in many orgs that role has been played piecemeal by various folks and solidifying into a formal function can feel premature / overkill / threatening.
Additionally, when introducing PMs into a company that hasn't had the role before, you also have an external challenge of creating enough of a brand to attract talent to hire.
Common challenges are:
- Fear that the PM will slow the team down or add too much process
- Another function has stepped in to fill the PM shoes and is reluctant to give their role up
- There is a solutions-first (vs. problem-first) mindset
- Founders have trouble letting go of product decisions as the company grows
- Talent mismatch - PMs were reporting into other functions which did not know what to look for in PMs