Product management and organization

I had to better understand the concepts, roles and duties related to Product management and Product marketing management in software companies, why are needed, which are the differences and how they fit inside an organization structure.

Most person i know never interested into this specific area of work, but when you want to be a product company (and not a consulting or solution company), you start having different products on different platforms for different target customers sold trough different channels with different pricing with a installation/different delivery process and that complexity must be managed in the proper way.

You realize that in order to let the product company grow in the right direction you need to organize product management activities formally, not closing your mind in rigid organization roles such as Marketing, Sales, R&D.

When we speak about Product Management i recommend the reading of the illuminating The strategic role of Product Management (How a market-driven focus leads companies to build products people want to buy) that clarify a lot of things, even if it outlook net separation of roles in product management, something that’s too heavy for a small company like a startup.

Still it provide a differentiation of duties between Product Management and Product Marketing.

A good understanding of the product management related to startup is given in the article Creating Product Management at Startup showing up different case related to the roles of the product visionary into the company.

It introduce the terms ceo of the product in the sense that the product management duties jump around into the various organization function by providing focus and effort where it’s needed, independently from the fact that the internal function requiring more effort is Development, Marketing, Sales or Communication. That’s means practically enhancing the product vision as it’s needed across all major product-related functions making the vision corporate-wide coherent.

A good representation of product management and product marketing activities is well described with the differentiation of between Strategical, Technical and Marketing sector and is not clearly separated between Management, Marketing(and Sales) and R&D :


I read that product manager background and knowledge are different depending on the company focus (where does product management belong in the organization?):

  • B2C -> Marketing experience
  • B2B -> Technical experience

An illuminating (for me) and very important differentiation regarding product management duties is the differentiation between:

  • Product Management
  • Product Marketing

The specific duties belonging to Product Marketing vs Management are greatly explained in Role Definitions For Product Management and Product Marketing that i suggest to read, letting you to better define tasks and responsibilities across your organization. It also provide a good definition of job requirements if you need to look for that figure!

At the same time it’s important to understand what’s NOT product management, effectively Product management is not just feature prioritization.

At the same time it’s important to understand which professional figure is NOT itself a product manager:

  • Product manager is not a marketing manager – while product management is usually seen as a marketing discipline, marketers are focused on the marketing plan and are usually not driving the overall product direction. In that context could however be found Product marketing manager that’s the arms of the marketing of the product, especially in small organization.
  • Product manager is not a sales manager - sales manager are about finding out how to sell a product, following which sales methodology, technique and channels and they could drive the company from a market oriented company (product) to a customer oriented company (solution and consulting)
  • Product manager is not a developer – Developers are focused on the technology and not the overall product. Some great product managers are former developers, but it is difficult to do both at once. There is a natural tension between developers and product managers that should be maintained to create a balanced product.
  • Product manager is not a software manager – the software manager is a functional manager and usually not focused on the product or the customers.
  • Product manager is not a project manager – project managers are about how and when, while the product manager is about what. Project managers work closely with product managers to ensure successful completion of different phases in the product life cycle.

The typical product management activities could be in extreme synthesis summarized as follow:

  • Strategy: Planning a product strategy
  • Technical: leading product developments
  • Marketing: providing product and technical content
  • Sales: provide pre sales support and work effectively with sales

Product management so it’s not precisely development, is not precisely marketing, it’s not precisely sales, so typically it’s difficult to identify “where it should stay” inside the organization structure (it’s even difficult to understand that’s needed)?

The Silicon Valley Product Group provide a nice insight on Product Organization Structure by pointing out which are the advantages and risks of several choices. Still the Cranky Product Manager say that It doesn’t matter where the product manager live in the organization.

It’s relevant to be careful not to have persons that are too much technical or too much sales oriented in order to fill the gap among different organization. Too much fragmentation of assigned duties across the organization may lead to bureaucracy, too much duties on one person may lead to ineffective implementation of needed tasks in some area and to a internal competition perception respect to the traditional roles.

Check there a very nice Resume of a professional with practical experience in product management (it’s an half techie/half marketing guys).

Ah! Another very common misunderstanding is to confuse marketing with communication where a i found a so good definition of Marketing that i really like and understand for strict relationship with Product Management:

Marketing is know the market so well that the product sell itself

But what happen when you don’t handle a product management and product marketing management process in a defined way?

A nice story is shown as example in The strategic role of Product Management :

Your founder, a brilliant technician, started the company years ago when he quit his day job to market his idea full time. He created a product that he just knew other people needed. And he was right. Pretty soon he delivered enough of the product and hired his best friend from college as VP of Sales. And the company grew. But before long, the VP of Sales complained, “We’re an engineering-led company. We need to become customer-driven.” And that sounded fine. Except… every new contract seemed to require custom work. You signed a dozen clients in a dozen market segments and the latest customer’s voice always dominated the product plans. You concluded that “customer-driven” meant “driven by the latest customer” and that couldn’t be right.

If you want to be a product company it’s relevant to precisely follow a strategy driven by product marketing and management and not by sales.

Confusion between duties of product management/marketing and sales could lead to unsuccessful product company that are not able to proceed within their strategy, simply because they getting opportunities that drive the business out-of-scope.

A product company must invest in it’s own product development and marketing in order to let sales activity stay focused and guarantee that the organization is every day more effective on the market.

After this reading, my understanding is that it’s relevant to identify how to create a set of flexible business process on how to handle various product management and product marketing duties separating them from sales.

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