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.
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.
Our SPLSG initiator & founding partner Jörg Malang will be in Berlin 02/07/ – 05/07/2019 to meet some product leaders and other people interested in catching up. One of the highlights will definitely also be the SPLSG “Biergarten” Event on July 4th.
In case you are interested in meeting Jörg next week, please feel free to schedule a time via Calendly. Looking forward to it!
Something is going on. When you read job ads for “Head of Product”, not only “customer understanding”, “understanding of technology” and “know how to work in an agile environment” show up as requirements. Increasingly things such as “coach and mentor our Product and UX teams to deliver their maximum potential” are there as well. In my interpretation, I would read that leadership capabilities are becoming increasingly important in the product management space. As long as pieces of advice to Heads of Product like “you need to coach your product managers 1:1” is sold like the hottest thing on earth, we haven’t reached a desirable level of maturity in the product management discipline.
I would see this as a good signal. Many product managers ended up in a leadership role in their organizations – and failed. They weren’t able to assess and develop the members of their staff. This is a sign of a bubble happening as we speak – too many people too early in leadership roles. There are Head of Product & VP Product roles in Berlin that are open for weeks and weeks. It is hard to find the right person. And organizations are increasingly hesitant to promote their existing product managers into leadership roles. The new breed of product leaders will have understood the importance of leadership capabilities. They will combine their product management expertise with a wealth of tools and personal experience to create value as a leader. There is no shortcut to this slow growth. To close this post, I would like to familiarize you with the “Peter Principle“ in case you aren’t aware of it yet. It is from 1969. And more valid than ever – especially in the product management function, I am afraid…
Marty Cagan from Silicon Valley Product Group (https://svpg.com) presented a topic during MTP Engage Hamburg Conference last month. This topic has to be close to the hearts of any product leader: “Empowered Product Teams.”
It was a really good presentation. Marty explained very well how important empowerment is for product managers and organizations. I am a big believer of Marty’s concept about product management.
But IMHO there are some unanswered questions in his presentation. Perhaps either Marty himself or someone else can help us answer them.
Our questions for Marty Cagan
Does the empowerment concept apply to all organizations? Or does it apply only to those that are dealing with a high amount of uncertainty and/or pressure to innovate?
How to navigate as a product leader in organizations where the product (discovery) is playing only a small role? Where e.g. the CMO or the COO is very dominant?
Marty talked about only 20% being companies with “missionaries” and 80% “mercenaries”. What do I as a product manager do if I happen to be in a “mercenaries” company? Walk away or try to influence/help the company to grow culturally?
How do I work with a CxO / line manager who doesn’t believe in the empowerment of the product team?
How do I change the perception of product management in my organization? From “serving the business” to being “empowered to serve the customers, in ways that meet the needs of the business.”
SPLSG focuses on “horizontal” product leadership. Based on the assumption there is a world-class team of product managers, the focus of the product leader is to understand how general management works. And -even more importantly- how to influence the course of their respective organizations. Read more about this here.We firmly believe that it is time to stand up and become respected leaders. Also outside our very own product management function.
SPLSG can help you with selecting the right candidate for your vacant product leadership role. Our partners are experienced in leading product teams and know very well what makes a good product leader.
We have a framework for the evaluation of applicants that helps organizations come to better decisions. On top of this, SPLSG partners can run interviews in person or remotely. Especially in situations where you don’t have your very own senior product leader to support you, you might need an external expert.
Please send us an Email in case you are interested in hearing more about this service.
If done right, a product manager sits at the source of the future success of their organization. They are the experts of customer needs . Focusing on customer problems is the start of identifying opportunities for growth.
A product leader is best suited to make an impact
Trying to move the needle on business impact is at the heart of a product manager’s responsibility. As a product manager, I am working full-time on becoming THE customer expert of my organization. My goal must be to become “a personified customer advocate.” I am able to advise how to turn those insights into concrete products and services. I influence the product portfolio and have tools and processes at hand that ensure a positive business impact of any feature built.
Customer centricity means those closest to customer need to influence the direction (and not those with the manager job title)
Being close to customers is by no means the privilege of a manager nor even of the CEO. As a product leader, I must insist on having direct access to my customers. Don’t let the CEO tell you: “We have done extensive customer research. Better read that instead of wasting your time with repeating that exercise. In case of doubt, I can give you my opinion.” (And I swear you, this is what I have been told by one of my past CEOs who doesn’t want to be quoted here publicly.)
Most importantly, you must not let you be pushed into thinking about solutions to early. Or – even worse- let management dictate the features you are supposed to build. You must gain the authority to say “no” it if is justified in customer insight. Product managers are in a pole position for this. They have learned how to systematically approach the challenge of customer understanding. They know all about lean UX and therefore know how to effectively come to a solution for a given customer problem.
Being close to customer needs is a constant source for innovation
Product leaders know the problem space inside out. They also know very well the technical capabilities of their organizations. Over time they develop an acumen what is feasible with a reasonable level of investment. But they also know when a customer problem is really worth tackling. Good product leaders bring “invention” and “businessvalue” together and create “innovation.”