There were some very interesting responses to my post “Product Management by Committee?”. I also posted a question in the LinkedIn Internet Product Management Group [LinkedIn login and group membership needed] on the same topic.
I asked the following specific questions about companies using committees instead of dedicated Product Managers:
- How common is this in your experience?
- How effective do you think this is?
- Finally, at what point do companies like this decide they need an experienced PM in place?
Here’s some key points of the feedback from the LinkedIn group:
Michael Schmier responded first indicating 2 scenarios for Product Management in early stage companies:
My experience is that it primarily depends on who is in the committee.
Situation 1 – The company is founded by those with business and marketing experience (MBA types).
Here I think “official” product management comes in later…the founders play the role of product management, in addition to the role of CEO, CFO, CMO, VP-Sales, etc. and work closely with engineering and development.
Model 2 – the company is founded by less experienced business types – e.g. technologists.
In this scenario, I’ve seen product management come in much earlier – usually before revenue is ensured but after the technology concept is somewhat proven and there is validation through a first round of funding (Series A).
Guillermo (Willie) Hernandez agreed with Michael’s comments and warned about CTOs who act as Product Mangers in early stage firms.
I believe that this is a big problem and it is hurting many good startup companies that, otherwise, will do great if they would let professional Product Manager teams lead the way. It is getting to the point that I believe it is necessary to start defining what the role of the CTO should be and where does the CTO office ends and Product Management starts.
Dan Leeds gave his view quite succinctly:
To me it’s simple: committee = consensus = average = bad product design.
The only effective model for product development is dictatorial, expert leadership informed by deep understanding of customer and market.
I tend to agree with Dan, though I wouldn’t use the word “dictatorial” myself. Product Management is about leadership and focus and a committee will embody neither leadership nor focus in decision making. I’ll write more on this in a subsequent post on the topic.
Steven Goldner makes a case for committees (if done correctly):
In the PM roles I have had, I have made myself the Chairman of a product committee bringing in all disciplines in the organization. So I DO think that product by committee is the way to go, BUT you need a strong leader in charge of the committee. So, even small companies need a product manager, product owner.
So while committees are good, Steven insists that the right leader be in charge. I agree to that. Someone with the right background must have authority to make the right decisions (and be held accountable as well).
Sameer Pirmohamed mentioned financial constraints as a reason for not having dedicated Product Management:
Founders of startups may play the product manager role out of financial necessity at the start.
Then they may hire a product manager because they don’t have the necessary skill/experience to play the role long term.
While the above is definitely true, my question is more focused on companies that have funding, typically series A or even Series B venture capital or other financing where the management team extends well beyond simply founders.
Victor Doundakov basically agreed with Dan Leeds with his view on committees:
Committee means shared responsibility. Shared responsibility is nobody’s responsibility. Avoid it like a plague, it can be lethal for the business if not treated early. … Instead of committees, early startups should use “take charge, communicate and execute” model.
And finally Pankaj Mhatre summed it up as follows:
I think we almost see a consensus that consensus is not a great way to fulfill this role 🙂 However, the attitude of listening is very important and yet, just listening to the market/customers has never given us great products, so one does need individual intuition to kick in. So, I think only one mind can fill the ‘Product Leadership’ role, even if you have multiple team members contributing.
It was very interesting to see the views of the various people participating in this discussion. Given it was from a Product Management group, I wouldn’t expect the answers to support a committee NOT including Product Management itself.
My view on this is that the role of Product Management goes far beyond simply identifying market needs and problems and helping the company address them. Product Management needs to be thinking about the market needs, the proposed solutions and (at minimum) how and when to take the solutions to market. This last part means that Product Management should be responsible for defining the Go-To-Market Strategy. Others may execute it, but Product Management needs to define it.
I’ve seen far too many companies build complex products that they thought could be sold via a volume channel (and weren’t!), or take “enterprise” products to market that were far from being release ready. The companies thrashed and floundered, spending time and money on sales and marketing activities that they had no right engaging in. This not only burned cash, but delayed revenue and built skepticism amongst their prospects and partners.
Product Management needs to have a well defined and understood role in any technology company, especially ones that have raised millions of dollars in funding. They can certainly afford Product Management. And I’ll say quite openly, I’m surprised that VCs and other investors don’t realize quite plainly that they can’t afford NOT to have it in the companies they invest in.