The Apple Way: Product Success, Customer Centric Organizational Structure

If your company is like most organizations, there is an on-going battle over how the company is “driven”.  Sales, marketing, engineering, finance, legal, and distribution all competing with each other.

When I was at Apple, it was a constant fight between engineering and marketing.  Other examples I can cite are from several of my clients who complained that sales or the CEO would come back from a meeting with a customer and demand a change in feature priorities.  Priorities get changed, the demanded feature is shipped. Product doesn’t sell any more units.  Sales and CEO are not held accountable.  Product management gets blamed.

There are ways to avoid this problem and make it better.   I will cover that in future posts.

The right answer should be that a company is driven by what their customers “do”.  That is, as my partner Mike Connor points out in his blog: Focus on the business outcome for your customer for which you can create value.  Focus on the outcome.

Nothing else can or should be the driver.

Not “technology” since that is a solution in search of a problem.  Not the “market” since that is an artificial amalgamation of what the customer’s do and if one picks the wrong structure, management may very easily allocate too many or too few resources for the product.  I know, that happened to me several times at several companies.  See the post: Get Market Segmentation Right.

I propose product management should be at the Vice President level.  At the same level as engineering, sales, operations, marketing, HR, finance, etc.

Steve Jobs early role at Apple was VP of Product Management.  Phil Schiller is the current one.  I am told the VP of Product Management at FaceBook sits at the same table as does Mark Zuckerberg. Elon Musk at Tesla is the “Product Architect”.  I suspect the same is true at many customer centric companies like the Virgin Group.  It is similar to what HP did when they had their 50 year run of growing 20% per year.

The downloadable organizational chart reflects the organizational structure of a customer oriented company which is why Apple has become, and will probably continue to be, the most valuable company in the world.

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About David Fradin

David Fradin has trained thousands of managers throughout the world. He infuses his workshops with insights and experiences gained as a expert product leader, product manager and product marketing manager at companies like Apple and HP. He was classically trained as an HP Product Manager and was then recruited by Apple to bring the first hard disk drive on a PC to market. As a result of his leadership and management skills, Apple promoted him first to Apple /// Group Product Manager and later Business Unit Manager at the same organizational level at that time as Steve Jobs. His forthcoming book “Building Insanely Great Products” and these workshops covers the founding values, vision, product life cycle and management employed by Apple at its founding and which it returned to in 1997 when Steve Jobs returned to Apple. What students will learn in these workshops is exactly what has made Apple the most valuable company in the world.

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