Top 4 Diagnostics for Optimizing Product Management Teams

The degree of maturity of your Product Management organization can directly drive your ability to satisfy customers and become more profitable.

Some Product Management teams are really young and still learning the ropes. Some are like aspiring athletes, and just needing better coaching and a new regiment to take their performance to the next level.

Wherever your team is on this spectrum, we have a “checkup” of sorts that can help you understand where your team is now on its growth curve, and how to take it to the next level. We call this the “Product Management Organizational Health Checklist”, and we’ve developed it based on over 20 years of experience helping Product Management teams form, storm, norm, and ultimately: perform.

This blog post will give you a peek at the major categories of the checklist to get you started. To learn more, download the full checklist and watch the on-demand version of our webinar Diagnosis Product Management: Reaching Peak Performance.

How “Mature” Are You?

It’s important to not be too hard on the maturity of your team, especially if it’s just starting out, or perhaps has been around a long time and is feeling a little bored. In my experience, any Product Management team that is less than three years old, or is less than three years into a transformation, is not yet performing at peak capacity. We often discuss three major stages of maturity for a Product Management organization, as shown in the following chart.

Product Management Assessment and Optimization Program

The Breakdown

The first thing to notice is the relationship between Customer Satisfaction and Profitability. While this may seem obvious, it’s worth stating clearly: the more satisfied your customers are, the more profitable your business will be. For non-profit companies, you may measure “profit” in terms of other benefits than money, but that’s a different topic. What we have seen regularly is that the degree of maturity of your Product Management organization can directly drive your ability to satisfy customers and become more profitable.

When you’re ad hoc

At the Ad Hoc level of maturity, a Product Management team has no consistency in the way it does its job. It’s like a young athlete who hasn’t trained consistently, or even run a race yet. There’s no repeatable process for anything, Product Managers (and the rest of the organization!) don’t know exactly what they are supposed to be doing, or not doing, and they lack tools to help them do their job more effectively. Individual Product Managers on the team rarely have any formal training – each has learned from “on the job training” or haphazard efforts to learn about certain topics. The result is a team that is frequently “reacting to the news” rather than “making the news.” The team is not typically well-respected by the rest of the organization, in part because they aren’t making products that are as profitable as they could be, or aren’t satisfying customer needs.

Are you partially defined?

Product Management teams that are at the Partially Defined level of maturity are doing better. They are like an athlete that’s been to a meet or two but are still inconsistent in their training and approach to the game. They have some consistent processes, are clearer about what they’re supposed to be doing, and may be making efforts to drive their Product Roadmaps – rather than the other way around. Individual Product Managers may have had some training, but each is using different techniques and tools. These PM teams still struggle to stay strategic in their thinking, and have a hard time saying “no” to new requests. They may be using tools suited for other purposes, such as Development tools like Jira, Rally, or Asana. But these tools typically drive the focus towards “building features” rather than building a business case based on real customer needs.

Get optimized

Ultimate success comes to Product Management teams at the Optimized level of maturity. Now we’re talking about an athlete after they’ve had several successful triathlons! These teams follow a consistent Product Management process that puts an emphasis on understanding customers and building a strategically sound business case for every product. Product Managers have received formal training to know what tools to use when to guide both their strategic and tactical efforts. Because they know what their roles and responsibilities are, and are clear on this point with all of the other teams they work with, they are able to stay focused on what’s important, and drive their cross-functional product team to effectively deliver products that matter. As a result, the Product Management team becomes a team of Product Leaders – highly valued by the rest of the organization.

In reality

Organizations rarely fit neatly into one of these three stages, but can often identify with characteristics of each. In particular, clients find themselves somewhere in between the Ad Hoc and Partially Defined stages when they reach out to us for help. This makes sense, as these organizations have identified the need to improve, and probably have even taken the first steps in doing so, but recognize that they need professional help if they want to grow and mature more quickly.

Four Categories of Organizational Health

Wherever your organization is today on the maturity scale, how can it advance up and to the right? As with many paths to improvement, you must begin by identifying where you are now, and where you want to go.

Our Product Management Organizational Health Checklist can help. We’ve found that there are four major categories that an organization needs to think about as it works to identify what’s working today, and what could be improved. Think of each category as a different part of a health exam.

#1 – The Role of the Product Manager and Product Marketer

Both new Product Management teams and well-established teams can suffer from not being well understood by the rest of the organization, and particularly by the company’s executive team. This can happen when the roles and responsibilities of a Product Manager or Marketer are not well defined, or actually adhered to. Just as important as understanding what these roles should do, is understanding what these roles should not be doing – to avoid being dragged down into a “product janitor” role.

#2 – Company and Product Management Alignment

Understanding what the Product Management team does and does not do is only half the battle when it comes to working harmoniously with the rest of the company. Equally important is ensuring your product strategy is aligned with your company’s overall strategy. I know this sounds painfully obvious, but you would be surprised how many products I’ve seen that have become what I call “zombie products.” They have a life of their own! They just keep on going, churning out new features quarter after quarter, without contributing to the company’s bottom line or growth strategy. You want to avoid this by ensuring that every product in the company’s portfolio is helping advance the company’s overall strategic goals.

#3 – Product Success

This often gets lost in all of the effort to build the right product and launch it successfully: do you know how to measure whether your product is being successful? This is about more than just tracking sales, subscriptions, or revenue. It requires understanding and tracking product usage, mining customer support issues for insights, even monitoring issues with delivery or installation that can sour the customer’s overall experience. Having a consistent set of processes and methods throughout the product’s entire lifecycle to track product success is a key part of building a successful Product Management organization.

#4 – Process and Tools

Which leads us to the final category of our organizational check-up. We take this category last, but it really is foundational to the success of the Product Management team.

Is the team following a consistent process to conceive of new products, and then to build a real, honest business case to evaluate the opportunity? Are the relationships with other teams “just part of what we do” as you build requirements and a launch plan? Are the decision gates consistent, and does everyone understand how decisions are made, so that there is a sense of fairness and understanding for the choices that are made? For a Product Management team to build a strong morale, and a rapid velocity, you need good answers to these questions.

Once a good set of processes is in place, you also need a consistent set of tools in place to make the process run smoothly. Consistency in processes and tools goes hand-in-hand.

Where is Your PM Team on the Spectrum?

In this article, we’ve covered the four major categories of organizational health to consider when assessing the effectiveness of your Product Management team. Join our webinar on March 19th to receive a download of the full checklist and learn how it can help you drive your team to become optimized and create the products that matter.

View the Webinar On-Demand

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We’ll show you how to evaluate your team and measure how important each team characteristic is to your business. Then, once you have a better idea of what’s ailing your team, you can look into ways to improve it.

About the Author

Roger Snyder - VP of Marketing
Roger Snyder is a Principal Consultant/Trainer, and VP of Marketing at 280 Group.
Roger has worked in the field of Product Management for over 20 years, with experience in startups, growth companies, and various technology sectors. He specializes in improving product strategy development, implementing full product lifecycle processes, and roadmap development and evolution.
280 Group is the world’s leading Product Management training and consulting firm. We help companies and individuals do GREAT Product Management and Product Marketing using our Optimal Product Process™.

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