Non-working title: “ProdMgmt 2: Revenge of the MRDs”

I’ve outline a new book focused on the people who run technology product management teams – Directors of Product Management, VP PMs, etc. A narrower audience than my last, but one without much targeted writing.

As completed, chapters will link from here – replacing their thumbnail descriptions. Opinionated, boisterous comments and corrections are much appreciated — at the bottom of this page concerning the outline (wrong, bad, or missing subjects; suggested titles). Comments/edits on individual sections should follow those sections.

Throughout, I’ll continue to interview Directors of Product Management (etc) to collect their viewpoints, concerns and solutions. If you’re one of these, please contact me.

Sect 0: Introduction/Motivation

  • Little is written about managing PMs. Focus of literature is on individual contributors, PM tools/templates and the front-line job.
  • Distinct set of problems and needs and tools. How to form, manage and motivate a unique group of problem-solving knowledge workers? Cross-functional organizational problems are unavoidable.
  • “Tech product” here mean SaaS, hardware, software, professional services, cleantech, biotech…
  • Product management is not a science, although it includes some quantitative/analytic tools. Lean and Agile don’t remove the need for judgment, experience, leadership, cross-functional organizational skills. No magic bullet, no uniformly perfect answer, no template that delivers deep insights. “How hard can it be?”

Sect 1: The People You Manage

What does a PM do, anyway?

  • No uniformity in roles, companies, staffing.  We must affirmatively define it for our companies.
  • Essential three audiences: development, marketing/sales/customers, executives.
  • “Drives a cross-functional organization toward products that customers want, technical teams can deliver, and the company can profitably sell.”

Strategy vs Tactics, Toolkits vs Judgment

  • Essential demand of PM is for judgment, thoughtful filtering of complex inputs, applying broad tools to unique situations
  • There is no one perfect strategy, no perfect product description. By definition, competitors can’t all pursue the same strategy, nor have the same starting points. Templates and tools are useful to spur thought, but rarely deliver a solution.

What makes a great PM?

The Many Faces of Customer Input

  • Most critical aspect of PM role, most often sacrificed for deliverables and demands
  • Agile makes this tougher, not easier. Lean startup disperses responsibility.
  • Avoiding analysis paralysis

Sect 2: Organizations and Processes

Driving processes for good product vision and portfolios

  • Selling the need for product management. Tech companies forget (or don’t value) prodmgmt.
  • Own the PM process, let PMs own their products
  • Shared roadmaps, shared priorities, shared resource pools
  • Allocating PM resources and dev resources across products

Hiring, firing and mentoring

  • How to lobby for more staff
  • Where to look for candidates
  • Individual mentoring
  • Group PM training, reinforcement, comraderie
  • Transferring folks out, letting folks go, promoting folks up and out

Organizational maps

  • Every organizational model has weaknesses. DirPM has to anticipate/offset weaknesses, periodically switch.
  • DirPM should adjust roles to fit people (for those worth keeping)
  • Strategic gaps appear where you divide the problem. Conway’s Law. Wherever you draw lines, that’s where communication problems develop
  • Some ways to divide the problem (technical, outbound and strategic; multi-product, independent PMs; platforms and client apps…)
  • Specialist PM roles (Architecture, customer behavior, PO/PM)
  • Startups: when can you afford your first full-time PM? When can’t you?

Sample job descriptions

KPIs and PM Metrics

Managing Up/Across: Good Politics and Bad Politics

Protecting PMs while they protect their dev teams

Sect 3: Where do you go from here?


  • Roger Fitzpatrick Reply

    Hi Rich,
    A very worthwhile project. I wish you luck with it!

    A thought: You have pointed out the Product Manager/Product Owner dilemma in the past. It isn’t solved. How PM Directors function in an Agile/SCRUM world might warrant a chapter.

    • Rich Reply

      Agreed, and the same issue emerging with lean/lean startup. How do we keep some focus on strategic issues with so much emphasis on bottom-up process?

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