Saturday, October 4, 2008

Product Management & Leadership

Over the last period I have been pondering about the Product Management and Leadership. The obvious connection has to do with the fact that setting strategic direction in both cases is a main component. However how can one even talk about these in the same breath? Product Management is function or role in a company while leadership – well so much has been written and discussed about it that it is hard to even find a starting point. For example about Technology Leadership.

That being said I have some ideas about where there are things that are may be important to understand between the two. Why you may ask is this even important to write about? Well not for any specific reason other than interest and current observations in my professional life that have been lacking, misused and/or I feel not being done properly. So this blog posting maybe nothing more than venting, letting some hot air out – if you know what I mean? Yet there may be some lessons to learn, for me at least by merely trying to articulate some of this.

Since good leadership involves the ability to develop a strategy, or strategic direction, it is natural to think that a Product Management role needs to have somebody with good leadership skills. However in many cases the Product Manager is used to nothing more than gather and define market requirements, while assisting in market positioning. Doing these tasks in the absence of the ability to affect the strategic direction relegates the Product Manager’s job to a secretarial nature. I call such Product Manager – Product Secretaries. Their contributions are more administrative in that they are conveying other people’s needs, in this case the Market or customers to the product development organization. 

Leadership is about empowering, motivating and inspiring people to do more than what is expected of them. Empower, motivate and inspire – that cannot be said enough times. It is the ability to guide a group of people to perform better than the sum of their parts – or individual contributions. Empower, motivate and inspire – did I mention that? Not enough… In the context of the Product Management role collaboration is also very important. Another of those forgotten aspects since most cases Product Managers are focused on one or many products. Think if we can foster collaboration (yes empower, motivate, and inspire them to collaborate) the group will work together, learn from each other and find many aspects of the market needs that may be complimentary as well as new ones. We as humans are inherently social beings. It is actually quite easy for us to collaborate. However when management is applied instead of leadership, personal goals and adherence to process wins, quenching the elemental fundament for collaboration. A posting in the "Agile Management Blog" gives an example.

Another interesting observation about leadership in product management roles is the fact that personal opinions become factual. Since we are trying to set a strategic direction with the lack of market evidence or data we shape opinions into facts. We need something to base decision on right? It has not been said enough times “Your opinion although interesting is irrelevant” (from Pragmatic Marketing, a version of an Albert Einstein qoute). We may take a word of warning from the current financial crisis, some say caused by the thinking that we are invincible in our actions and opinions. As long as we achieve our short term goals – let’s just ride it. Well at a certain point we will hit the wall, which apparently they just did, and we get smacked in the face with reality.

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