Ask A Good Product Manager

Your product management questions answered

How can I establish product management within a company?

Posted on July 29, 2010 · 11 Comments

Question: How do I start a product management role within a company that has never had one?

I’ve been hired by a software company to be their first Product Manager. There is no product manager today, and each part of the job is done either by engineers, sales, marketing, QA, etc.

What would be the first steps to establish the product manager role within the company and bring value while learning products and context?

Answer from Mara Krieps of Pivotal Product Management: Congratulations on being selected to launch the product manager role in a company! This is one of the most challenging (and sometimes risky) assignments a product manager can have, and yet it can be one of the most rewarding. Here are my recommendations for what to do during your first weeks in the role:

  1. Get a clear picture of the stakeholder landscape. Meet one-on-one with all known and potential stakeholders. Your goal is to answer these questions:
    1. Who understands the role of a product manager?
    2. Who currently holds some or all product manager responsibilities?
    3. Who is in favor of this change, and who is not? (Who sees this change as a gain vs. loss for themselves or their department?)

    Based on the responses you receive, it can be helpful to draw a “map” of the stakeholder landscape and identify your likely challenges and relationship-building opportunities.

  2. Identify and prioritize the current issues around the product development process. Consider facilitating an Innovation Game like “Speedboat” with your stakeholders to identify the key issues in a non-threatening way. Include your own expected challenges in this exercise. They will include migration of product management tasks from the current owners, and getting the organization to agree to move from an ad hoc process to a predictable processes.
  3. Develop a plan for the processes and tools you’ll use to get the job done.
    • Ask the team to show you the documents, models and templates they are using now
    • If your own toolbox is lacking any templates, come and get what you need from ours: www.pivotalpm.com/learn

Also, you’ve correctly identified ramp-up as an underlying task. Do get up to speed on the product, customer and market as quickly as possible. As you know, your credibility ultimately will rely on your domain expertise.

Good luck in your new role!

11 other answers so far ↓

  • Derek Morrison // Jul 30, 2010 at 8:46 am

    I would add hold a meeting with the development/engineering team – sell the idea of product management to them i.e. the benefits and rewards – also get them to tell you their likes and dislikes. You may (if you’re brave) get them to rank how happy they are with situation now (using smiley faces or rank on a scale of 1 – 5) and then ask them again in 3 or 6 months time and see what impact you have had.

    Not the same situation as yours but I’m in a new job and met with the dev team see Meet the Product Manager

  • Derek Britton // Jul 30, 2010 at 9:42 am

    Completely agree with everything said so far. Another perspective is this. Chances are, someone pretty senior in the organization took the decision, based on a rationale, to employ a product manager. Given this role isn’t usually quota carrying, it is regarded (by your CFO for one) as overhead. So someone had a plan in their mind when justifying the new role and expense. Find who that was, and find out what the rationale was. That is, when it all comes down to it, your role and KPI, succeed on the plan someone has written for you. Find the plan. And run with it.

    This sounds risky but in actually fact it’s no more than any other PM faces each day. Other questions on this site ask about the PM acting as “the CEO for their product”, and that’s what you have to do.

    The first guy in typically has to not only get those results (probably related to product revenue but may be other things too such as customer sat, time to market, etc.), but also pave the way for a new culture in the company – so you have to be a pioneer, evangelist, expert communicator and all round positive source of inspiration.

    I was fortunate enough to work for a PM VP who was effectively the first of his kind, and it was through his evangelism and belief that we made a PM team the really led the organization through a really significant growth period. He had the trust of the CEO and the support of nearly everyone, because his conviction and resolve was formidable, his self-belief inspiring. You couldn’t help but get on the bus.

  • Andrea // Jul 31, 2010 at 9:59 am

    Agree with everything said so far.
    I just add few words as Product Manager of a suite of software products.
    IT is important establish the roadmap of the product with your organization, be sure to get the necessary budget and make a very detailed plan with Development Team ‘s Leader .
    Once you have establish the plan, it will be easier and you will be a sort of Project Manager for internal project.
    Then for sure you have to complete the role working with marketing, QA and others, but especially at the beginning they know what is necessary to do, so they will lead the process even if you are the principle Responsible.
    Good Luck
    Andrea

  • Ben Fry // Aug 3, 2010 at 5:45 pm

    I would have to agree with Derek, good conent.

  • Nishant Pradhan // Aug 10, 2010 at 12:00 am

    Here is my point of view:
    To start with, find the reason as to why do they require a product manager. The fact that they have identified the need and hired you as a product manager, means that they were having some issues with the way the things were happening. I would say, your first action item should be to identify issue(s) and then start prioritizing them based on the inputs from different stakeholders. Now start fixing the easier ones. My guess is that coordination would be the big issue as they didn’t have a product manager so far and every department did their job in silos. (Pick the low hanging fruits to start with). Now that you have made your presence felt, its time to do what you have been hired for – product management. The first thing would be to gather all the existing documents. Read them and make notes. Now start making a Product Vision document. Its very important to make your own vision document. It gives you more clarity about the product and once you get it reviewed by the heads (VP Product, Head QA, Head Marketing, CEO etc.), it becomes your bible. According to me, a product vision document should have the following headers:
    1. Business Objective
    2. Product Objective
    3. Product Vision & Mission
    4. product stakeholders
    4. Customer Segmentation
    5. Target Profile understanding
    6. Positioning of the product (what it is and more importantly, what it is not)
    7. Business Model & Operation Model of the product (include financials, costing etc.)
    8. Marketing Plan with Key performance indicators
    9. Prioritized Product features derived from product objectives
    10. As it is a s/w product, technology objectives mapped to/from business/product objectives
    11. Prioritized Technology features derived from tech objectives.
    12. Product/Technology Roadmap derived from prioritized product/technology features
    13. Risks anticipated with a plan to mitigate them

    Once this document is approved, start following it. This whole activity should take you atleast 2 months. Also, do revisit this document time to time and update it as you go. Cheers and good luck!

  • Derek Britton // Aug 10, 2010 at 2:11 am

    It certainly makes a lot of sense to follow Nishant’s suggestion and have a document that captures the whole raison d’etre of your role and vision for the product.

    However, here’s a stark warning – if you are first in on the product management side, you will be expected / hoped / assumed to be doing a thousand different things by all manner of stakeholders.

    For example:
    1. the Dev chief will expect you to be the 24/7 ‘product owner’ to specify priority, use-cases, manage the Beta program, justify feature requirements, attend sprint reviews etc.
    2. the QA chief will expect a comprehensive set of test cases, smoke testing, platform priorities, market segmentation to justify (and streamline) the testing effort
    3. Marketing will expect you to know the entire value chain for your product within seconds and come up with the “new idea” of promotion that will generate leads for your product
    4. Support – you will be the new go-to guy on any customer product escalations, fires to put out, renewal problems, etc.
    5. Sales – well, you can imagine what they are going to expect. pricing, discount policy, channels and partners, internal training, sales kits, and then of course because you are the main dude, you are now the super SE so can give the best pitch, the best demo.
    6. Finally you’ll be called in by the COO/CFO or CEO to explain “how it’s all going” at the drop of a hat – and they will surely have a view on what you should be doing too.

    i.e. you are going to be expected to do a thousand things that are tactical and try as you might you won’t get much input on the truly strategic. Chances are you have to fight that corner yourself.

    Chances are, your vision document is probably yours and yours alone to write. It will demonstrate your credentials for sure, but it might not be the thing that your internal customers want to talk about. Back to my earlier response, you might have a single backer who was the original sponsor of getting you in… it’s really THEY who need to agree your document, plus whoever you are working for. Everyone else can contribute, but you might not get much initially, because they have their own view on the world…

    It makes the task tough – but be clear, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it, it means you should assume it will take a lot of time to get the input, and you might need to start running with your own draft sooner than that.

  • Nishant Pradhan // Aug 16, 2010 at 10:59 pm

    Derek these examples are so true. I believe this is what product management is all about – managing experience with respect to stakeholders expectations. So an important conclusion here is to understand the expectations of your stakeholders. And then delivering on them. The trick is not to over deliver nor under. Because you just cant please one person more than the other. Thats what a real good product manger is – one who can optimize!

  • Marc Story // Aug 24, 2010 at 9:18 pm

    There are many excellent suggestions. I think Derek and Nishant are particularly on target.

    Since this is your company’s first effort at formal Product Management you might also choose to take a slightly different perspective for a while as you drive the cultural change that must come with Product Management.

    Try this:
    You, the product manager and the services you provide are the product.

    Just like you would for any product find out what your customers need and move to fill that need. Act as the proxy for your customers. Derek lists a number of roles that will have expectations/assumptions of what you are or should be doing. I would meet with each and identify in explicit terms what those expectations and assumptions are. Uncover what it is that they think about your position. Your master discovery skills will come in handy.

    Make sure you identify who in the company drove the PM decision and engage him or her as an ally. It is likely that this person is very senior and very capable of helping to drive the needed changes. They are likely to have substantial political capital invested as well and need you to succeed, leverage this.

    Once you have done your market research you can pull it together, vet it against something like the Pragmatic Framework. Put together a vision and a specific task set that makes sense for the company, your stakeholders and to you as a Product Manager. Do make sure you lean heavily on the strategic end of the spectrum; the tactical will come to you.

    Doing this leg work will give you tremendous credibility and you will have a level of buy-in that makes it easy for your co-workers to understand and accept.

    Just like the products you manage be prepared to make changes to the Product Management Product as you learn and your company begins to adopt.

  • Tom Leung // Sep 25, 2010 at 11:18 am

    I’d suggest doing all of the above but before you even try any of that stuff, your first job is to sit down, face to face, with 5-10 people across the organization and ask them these 3 questions.

    1) What do you focus on?
    2) What keeps you up at night about this product?
    3) What are the 3 things you think I must do to be successful?

    Resist the temptation to go John Wayne on them and give your 10 point action plan or 5 slide market analysis. There will be plenty of time for that in the future.

    Good luck!
    Tom

  • Gopal Shenoy // Dec 1, 2010 at 10:52 am

    Here are couple of my blog posts that would be helpful to this discussion.

    Software Product Manager’s First 30 days: http://productmanagementtips.com/2010/01/06/software-product-manager-new-job/

    Software Product Manager’s First 45-90 days:
    http://productmanagementtips.com/2010/01/13/software-product-manager-job/

  • Kristen Atkinson // Dec 24, 2010 at 12:56 am

    There are many excellent suggestions. I think Derek and Nishant are particularly on target. Since this is your company’s first effort at formal Product Management you might also choose to take a slightly different perspective for a while as you drive the cultural change that must come with Product Management. Try this: You, the product manager and the services you provide are the product. Just like you would for any product find out what your customers need and move to fill that need. Act as the proxy for your customers. Derek lists a number of roles that will have expectations/assumptions of what you are or should be doing. I would meet with each and identify in explicit terms what those expectations and assumptions are. Uncover what it is that they think about your position. Your master discovery skills will come in handy. Make sure you identify who in the company drove the PM decision and engage him or her as an ally. It is likely that this person is very senior and very capable of helping to drive the needed changes. They are likely to have substantial political capital invested as well and need you to succeed, leverage this. Once you have done your market research you can pull it together, vet it against something like the Pragmatic Framework. Put together a vision and a specific task set that makes sense for the company, your stakeholders and to you as a Product Manager. Do make sure you lean heavily on the strategic end of the spectrum; the tactical will come to you. Doing this leg work will give you tremendous credibility and you will have a level of buy-in that makes it easy for your co-workers to understand and accept. Just like the products you manage be prepared to make changes to the Product Management Product as you learn and your company begins to adopt.

What do you think?