This blog will be a bit controversial. Having worked in many organizations across hardware and software and services, I can see the conflict between product management and engineering. When the balance between these two departments is just right, great products are produced and customers are listened to and are happy with the outcome. All too often, however, either product management or engineering is ascendant and the product and the customer suffers.
Damn the Organizational Construct
As the business leader of the organization, there is always the question of where to place Product Management on the organization chart. Many old school approaches put the PM organization in Marketing or Engineering. This is usually a sign that the leader has not figured out the updated role of the PM to connect customers (UX), technology and the business. In a marketing organization placement there is
leaning toward go to market and pricing/packaging/messaging as the key focus while the manifest for engineering development is largely determined by an interlock with the organization leader and the engineering leader. In an engineering organization placement, the focus is mostly on documenting product requirements and often those are done after the fact once engineering starts building what the organization has agreed to in executive staff meetings. By no means is reality this black and white, and often times the marketing and engineering leaders have an updated notion of what the PM should do and I have seen some good successes in either of these models.
Then there are the oddities, having the PM report to the CTO. This
was an interesting one where the technology stack and the market posture required major changes and the CTO played an active role. This in a way is like the PM organization reporting to the founder of the new initiative. Perhaps the most successful and common in Silicon Valley is to have the PM organization report to the general management or CEO of the company. In this model the PM voice is elevated to the executive committee and can play a very special role in connecting the technology, users, market position and product lifecycle. Yes, this is the right place for the PM organization , but is one where all the organization leaders need to be in complete agreement of the role of PM.
Oftentimes Fear Rules the Day
Ultimately the PM group needs to be placed in the organization and fear can drive the decision. Are we afraid that Marketing does not really understand the technology or the real user needs? Are we fearful that engineering just wants PM to drive detailed requirements of what has already been decided? Can the leader of the organization balance both organizations and have PM report to the CEO?
The other critical factor is the selection of the Product Management leader. Depending on the Product Management leadership skills and background of the individual, a specific organization may stand out for the placement. Reporting to the CEO or organizational leader is oftentimes the best place for Product Management, but this requires key interlocks between engineering, marketing and the CTO office. Not every organization is willing to do the hard work to ensure that this model works. If not, then falling back to one of the other options may in fact for the time being be the best for the organization. Any other opinions out there?