This is an observation from visiting a number of companies in Sweden and abroad – the challenges for product management to define a good collaboration format with Sales and Segments. I am not an historian but it seems to me that many Swedish (?) companies start from a really good product idea. Having the best technical solution is good enough to succeed in the market for some time – maybe you have to get some help from a sales organization but that is all you need to be successful.
Over time the sales organization tends to become stronger and stronger having a more direct impact on the development of the company, but also the product. The company have become sales driven - which is considered good. Well, it may be good to a certain level but if sales has too much leverage on the product strategy – the company tends to end up with a messy portfolio driving big costs in maintenance.
Anyway, as the market is getting more and more mature many companies invest in skills focused on understanding certain industries and even certain applications types where the products are used. This is good for the product manager as it is a challenge to build up understanding of the market at this level. And a deeper understanding of the market trends and the specifics related to an industry is needed to find ways to differentiate in the more competitive environment. This new function is in some cases part of the product management function.
So what happens is, if the Segment is a separate organization, that now product management has a two front war with Sales on one hand and the Segments on the other.
Sales responsibility is to drive the short term focus securing the business for this quarter and maybe the next. The Segments are thinking long term with a perspective at the different industries/application areas. In between product management is striving to keep both happy at some level and to make the product successful at the same time. Not so easy! And who is supposed to do what anyway in this matrix?!
In a project that we have been working with lately we changed the perspective on the cross roads that implies the conflict of interest to a triangle of collaboration. With this change of perspective it becomes obvious that there is a dependency between the organizational units and it is easier to define the interfaces and the type of collaboration to implement.
By changing the visual presentation of the relations between the units opened up for a different approach to the situation. The build in conflict in the crossing between the interests changed to a collaboration of entities with different agendas but also with different responsibilities. A lot of work needs to be done implementing this change in the organization and there are still built in conflicts of interest. But for me it was a revelation to see the difference between the two perspectives.