The Cranky Product Manager has read, and listened, and pondered, and debated, and bit her tongue over the years, as others have debated the proper place in the organization for the Product Management function. Should it be in Engineering? Or in Marketing? Or in its own Products organization that reports directly to the CEO?
Not surprisingly, the answer depends on who you ask.
If you ask the CodeBoyz and CodeGrrlz, they generally think PM should be in Engineering. Because then the PMs could be forced to hang out in the Agile Tomb all day with the engineers. And because some CodeBoyz and CodeGrrlz think the PM should even pitch in and write some code now and then (a generally bad idea – see footnote 1).
If you ask the Marketing Weenies, well, naturally they want Product Management to be part of Marketing. Because then the Product Managers would somehow be more focused on customers and THE MARKET. Because, supposedly, you can’t focus on THE MARKET unless the letters M, A, R, K, E, and T are in your group’s name, in that order.
And if you ask many of illustrious luminaries and pundits that consult and train on the fine art of Product Management… well, they will all tell you that Product Management is such a strategic function that it should report directly to the CEO. Screw Engineering and Marketing! We need a pipeline to the Big Cheese! And this is all fine and good, especially if you are the VP or Director of PM and want the ego boost of saying you report directly to the CEO. You could then give both the VP of Engineering and the VP of Marketing the finger if you so desire!
Anyway, for a long time the Cranky Product Manager has read these various arguments churning about in the blogo-sphere-iverse, and something about them — no matter what their theory or conclusion — pissed her off. Just a little. And she couldn’t quite figure out why.
Until now. It’s the assumptions underlying this debate that irritate her.
The assumption is that if we sit in Engineering we’ll be too spineless and too tunnel-visioned to focus on the customer, market problems, issues for the field, the competition, or market positioning. But if we sit in Marketing that we’ll be so focused on empty soundbites and website color schemes that we won’t be able to give Development detailed enough requirements, that we’ll conjure up product features that can’t possibly be built (a la Warp Drive), and that we’ll stare vacantly into space instead of considering technical extension points (i.e. APIs) for our products.
What a bunch of crap.
On the one hand, all these proselytizing and theorizing folk say that Product Managers need to be these gifted cross-functional leaders and act as CEOs of their products, but then on the other hand they don’t trust these Product Managers to do so, based on nothing more than where the Product Management function sits within the organization.
For the Cranky Product Manager, and for every decent product manager she has ever asked, EVERY SINGLE decision made as a product manager comes down to the following two questions:
1. Is this the right thing for my product?
2. Is this the best thing, out of all the possible “right” things, for my product?
GOOD product managers are obsessed with doing the RIGHT thing for their products – their bosses opinions be damned, and their bosses’ bosses opinions too. They will fight tooth and nail to make the right things happen, to prioritize the activities that will move the needle the most (i.e. make the most money). Whatever needs to be done to make the product a success.
This holistic, obsessive, determined, and pig-headed attitude is WHY good product managers are respected throughout their organizations. It’s why people from different functions listen to them. It’s why they have credibility. It’s why they get stuff done. And, it’s why they are often “challenging” to manage, especially if your agenda includes items other than product success.
If good PMs were able to be easily pushed around by their VP’s latest political maneuverings, well they were probably not good PMs anyway. If this seems to be your challenge, well maybe you need to reconsider how you are evaluating your PMs – are you sure it’s based on their RESULTS and not their docility?
Anyway, possession of this do-it-right-and-do-it-best attitude has very little to do with WHERE the product manager sits in the organization. It has everything to do with the personality, passion, and focus on results that each product manager brings to the job.
So instead of pondering this infernal, and pointless, organizational design question, perhaps we should focus on hiring the RIGHT types of people of Product Management jobs.
Read what others have said about this topic:
- Marty Cagan, Silicon Valley Product Management Group – Where Should Product Management Live?
- Rich Mirnov, Enthiosys – Where Should PM Report?
- Steve Johnson, Pragmatic Marketing – The Strategic Role of Product Management
1. Having product managers code is a dumb, dumb idea – trust the Cranky Product Manager. She’s a
fantabulous product manager but at this point has forgotten more about writing code than she ever learned. Like playing a musical instrument, coding is something you need to do on a regular basis to be anything but a crappy programmer. Plus, it take the efforts of two mediocre programmers to undo the damage done by one crappy programmer. If a good PM has time to code often enough to not be completely crappy, he/she should probably instead spend that time looking for new market problems or doing competitive analysis.