Work split in your Product Management Team

     

. Pros and cons with clear responsibilities. How far should you  as head of product management go by dividing responsibilities in your product management team

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Managing product managers is a rewarding and challenging position. Typically, you have a responsibility to manage the company product portfolio - and by the way – also the team of product managers.

LEADING OTHERS

During my career I did hold various management positions – often leading other managers. I would say there is a difference in leading other LINE managers -  and leading project- or product managers.

The former group would be leaders with a clear responsibility to lead others. To hire and fire, to set salaries, to make sure your staff complies to corporate regulations. But also to make sure your co-workers have their desks, office equipment, working laptops. Now and then you will have to approve travel request, confirm time sheets…

Project and product managers however is a different kind of breed. This is a group of individuals who are expected to lead others, inspire colleagues to achieve fantastic (and sometimes unrealistic) goals.

Still, they normally do not have the (regulated) authority of a line manager.

PRODUCT AND PROJECT MANAGERS

We often hear some people having difficulties making a separation of the project and product management role. One significant difference is in the authority of the leader.

Obviously there are huge variations on company culture and the impact of project managers. In theory at least a project manager does have a very clear authority to make decisions and lead others within his/her project and project scope. With the product manager the situation is often fuzzier. Yes, you are “empowered” to drive business of your product – but very rarely by having clear authorities to approve new development initiatives or marketing events (on your own).

WORK SPLIT

So, for the project manager it is normally easy to define the scope of each individual. Maybe the project managers are all organized in a PMO (Project management office). Still – projects are assigned to single project managers on an individual basis.

So what about product management. Assume that we have a team of five product managers. The portfolio consists today of 30 products in various stages of the life cycle.  

[How to Assess Your Product Management Life Cycle]

SCENARIO A

You assign each product to one of the PMs. The junior ones would be given less important products – maybe with a stable business in a “Maturity” stage. Or the new product in the conception phase where there is a need for someone to be able to travel the world to gain insights and collect requirements.

SCENARIO B

You split the team according to life cycle. You assign your two experienced “heavy weight” PMs to each of the teams. One is taking care of new products being conceived and developed. There would be numerous daily meeting with developers.

The other team will concentrate on products in a growth phase. They’d try to expand business by adding service offering, finding new channels or by revitalizing old offerings.

SCENARIO C

You take the lead yourself. The PMs are given responsibility to the various activities within the PM Framework. Someone will be in charge of leading the monthly forecast update process. Another one is managing the cross functional team aligning our UX efforts (including aligning GUIs for all products). A third one would be the key interface for handling suppliers.

PROS and CONS

Having a clear split is often a good idea – in order to align expectations and priorities between the Line manager – and his/her resources. On the other hand – having a team approach where new tasks could be handled by whoever is available right now gives a higher flexibility to tackle imminent problems. It will also be less vulnerable if someone is suddenly leaving (or being home for a period).

One drawback with having unclear responsibilities we have seen is that since there is no limit (of work) for the individual there is a higher risk of burnout.


Splitting the work of a PM team is a delicate decision. In the end – it is very much about how you as a Director of PM want to execute you own management role. Do you want to interact on a daily basis with the entire team – or do you want each individual to run “their own business” over a longer period of time.

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About The Author

Erik has extensive experience in product management, business management and development. Within the software, electronics and hardware, Erik has pursued commercial success.