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This is a question that is asked many times. And it should be answered on multiple levels:
How many product managers should be responsible for the output of a development team of size X?
How many product managers does your company of size Y need?
What type of product management organization is needed/possible for Z product managers?
There is a good article by Siraj Khalic about this topic: https://medium.com/atomico/europes-product-management-problem-9061bc71dc99. For the “Y” above, he writes about a status quo median ratio of 1:34 in Europe (aka if your company has 60 employees, you have a maximum of two product managers on average). For the “X” above, the number of 1:24 (aka if your company as a development team of 24, you have one (!) product manager on average).
If you take a look from another angle: Let’s assume you are working agile. Your individual squad size should not exceed six to eight. And this number (1:8) is confirmed by Siraj for the Valley, but not for Europe. I have experienced many cases where one product manager was responsible for two scrum teams. Sometimes supported by a “Requirements Manager” or a “Junior PO.”
Let’s finish this post by discussing “Z”. The size of your company is limited by the number of product managers you have and how you organize them – not the other way around. Let’s image you have a development team of 200. With the ratio 1:8, it would require 25 product managers. As one product lead cannot work directly with so many product managers, you need to establish a layer in between. E.g., you could have one Product Director with 3-4 Heads of Product reporting to him/her. This requires senior product leadership. If you don’t have this in place, the outcome of your 200 employee development team will be suboptimal.
I have been thinking about this a lot. We are all aware of the experiences and skills a Product Owner/Product Manager needs. But a Product Leader needs more than those “horizontal skills” to succeed in his or her organization. Here come the ones SPLSG believes are the most important:
Large Organization – A Product Leader needs to navigate in large structures. Typically matrix organizations and very senior stakeholders are something that requires personal experience.
Large Team – Managing 3-5 Product Managers is relatively easy. But what happens if you are responsible for larger teams? If there is a hierarchical layer between you and your (practitioner) Product Managers? Not to forget: The Engineering Team also becomes quite large. Very quickly a Product Leader needs to steer 50-100 Engineers. You will need a personal leadership experience of that size to succeed.
Business & Market Acumen – You need to have a commercial drive to customers and how go-to-market works. As a Product Leader, you cannot leave this to others. You need to actively contribute & challenge your peers and the CEO.
Strategy/(Business Model) Innovation – Building features and only looking a couple of months ahead will make your company fail sooner or later. You need to be able to conceive a future, describe it to your organization. You should have done this a couple of times already.
Stakeholder Management/Evangelization – Perhaps the most important one. You need to not only sell your product but also influence the decision making of your stakeholders. Beware the stakeholders of a Product Manager are not automatically the same as the Product Leader’s. You will need many years of stakeholder experience on a senior level to succeed.
Processes/Organization/Product Development – This is the “bread and butter” of a Product Leader. No shortcuts, no excuses. Organize & deliver – together with your Tech counterparts.
Agility/Entrepreneurship – Build-measure-learn is the mantra. But not only on practitioner level, but also on an organizational level. How to be agile/entrepreneurial in a context that is built for a predictable future? If you have never have seen this from inside out, you will have difficulties. But if you aren’t having this as a strong driver, you won’t be passionate enough to make it happen.
So, how many boxes do you tick as a Product Leader? Is there something important missing in this list? Please comment – We are looking forward to your thoughts!
In preparation of our Product Leader Roundtable in Berlin on 16/09/2019 focusing on OKRs, we are looking forward to understanding better how widespread this framework is. Please help us by voting below. Thank you!
Objectives and key results (OKRs) are being discussed everywhere. Obviously, they are helpful to align the direction of the company across different teams. But does this make them fundamentally new?
You should be aware that they have first been mentioned already back in 1975 (read more here). Everyone who has some business education will know “Management by Objectives (MbO)”. We would argue that the framework is anything but new. Nevertheless, the fact that today it has become fashionable to implement OKRs in organizations is new. Above all, there seems to be an imminent need to align not only Product and IT, but also strategy and execution, business and product, product and marketing, etc.
Organizational Starting Point
Let’s take a look at the starting point. Organizational silo structures have made it increasingly difficult to have a competitive advantage over others. In a world where customer demands are getting more and more sophisticated, it is vital to be organisationally effective and efficient. At the same time, defining, designing, building and operating products requires an aligned approach. This cannot be planned like a waterfall project. The big word is “agility”. Most importantly, being able to ad hoc react to new insights and the ability to change direction whenever necessary. In a world where this matters most, a product leader needs to stand up. It all boils down to the ability to influence and to lead people into the desired direction. SPLSG have named those skills “horizontal skills.” Based on product management expertise, the responsibility of a product manager is ever-broadening.
OKRs might be a good framework. But without the overarching skills and without the mandate to lead, the implementation will simply end in a mess.
Get to know more
Discuss this topic more! We would recommend our next Product Leader Roundtable on September 14th in Berlin. It is fully dedicated to the topic “OKRs for Product Leaders.” Secure your tickets here.
Thank you to all our supporters and members since our initial launch in February 2019. It has been an interesting ride. We have had our first Product Leader Roundtable Event in Berlin and countless interactions with our members and product leaders who are interested in strengthening the still young discipline of (true) product leadership.
Now it is time to have a break! Enjoy summer and we are looking forward to resuming our activities in August/September.