So why do we undermine ourselves?

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My recent post about Tom Grant and Rick Chapman got me thinking. Is Rick alone in his misunderstanding of Product Management? To be honest, I knew what the answer would be, but I was rather surprised by what I found within the Product Management community itself!

And not to pick on the following people specifically, but here’s some of what I found:

In an article entitled “What is a Product Manager for?” written by Jacques Murphy and published on the Pragmatic Marketing site, Jacques states:

A Product Manager fills in the gaps between different functions and departments in order to make sure that the product develops and makes progress, with the aim of making the product perform better relative to the competition.

I later saw Jacques being quoted by Chris Cummings (author of the excellent Product Management Meets Pop Culture blog) in slide 2 of this deck on SlideShare.

And on slide 12 of the same deck, Cummings writes the following:

The Product Manager is the glue that binds the team together and the grease that keeps the product moving in the right direction.

And finally, this deck was the basis of a presentation that was given this past November on the Product Management View.

Now I must say that both Jacques and Chris gave a lot more detail to better explain the gaps, grease and glue, but what organization in business would define itself that way?

  • We’re Marketing. We’re the grease that enables Sales to do it’s job efficiently.
  • We’re Support. We fill the gaps left by Development, Documentation and Training.
  • We’re Project Management. We’re the glue that ensure Development and QA stay synchronized.

Do any of those sound like ways those groups would describe themselves? Not to me! So why should we refer to ourselves that way? Particularly when we believe we deliver a critical function within the business. Not only do the grease, glue and gap definitions diminish the value of Product Management, but they are fundamentally wrong.

As Nick Coster of Brainmates wrote in a comment on Chris Cummings blog,

Hey Chris, I used to see the role of the product manager as “the glue that binds teams together” but have now come to think that description grossly understates the imporance of product management.

By referring to the role as a binding or lubricating function, we acknowledge the dysfunction of other teams and accept the burden of resolving their inability to work together. If instead we lead the teams and focus their outputs then we, as the leaders for our products, can drive better outcomes for the business, our customers and ourselves.

I completely agree with Nick.

It’s time to stop describing Product Management as something that fills the gaps or greases the wheel etc. and start describing it consistently as a business critical role that helps optimize R&D investments, aligns teams across departmental silos and helps drive business success for the products under management.

Product Management is a critical enabler of business success, and like other departments such as Sales, Marketing and Finance, must be structured, staffed and directed in a deliberate manner to maximize opportunity for success.



7 responses to “So why do we undermine ourselves?

  1. Hi Saeed –

    This is a very interesting argument. Like I told Nick, the key part of the 20-words-or-less description, to me, wasn’t the glue/grease metaphor, but the ability to keep “the product moving in the right direction”. Which entails knowing the market, leading product development, and making sure the product meete market demands and business goals, among other things.

    But, I’ll own the glue/grease metaphor. What I like about it, is it gets to the heart of this unique role we have and function we serve–there is nothing that can perform that kind of function. Nothing, but us.

    Not that it’s the best metaphor in the world by any means… but, then again, I’d rather not be known as an “enabler” either 😉

    – Chris

  2. Chris,

    Thanks for the comment. As I mentioned in the post, I wasn’t picking on you (or Jacques) and I did mention that both of you did go further to explain what you meant.

    But my point was the metaphors themselves. If we describe ourselves that way, that’s what people will remember — they will not remember the details that explain the metaphor, I guarantee you of that! — and we need to raise our own profile by making a stronger case for what product management truly delivers.

    BTW, my use of the word “enabler” was not part of a strict definition of Product Management so don’t take that too literally.


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  4. Saeed, good post, right on the money. Try this definition:
    “Product Managers manage the process of turning an idea into profit.”

    • Linda,

      Thanks. That’s a nice succinct definition. Do you find people (not involved in products companies) understand what that definition means? i.e. does it require further explanation or is it clear to people exactly what is implied?

  5. Good test. When I explain it to my family, they don’t quite understand the details but they appreciate that that’s what companies exist for, and it makes sense that someone oversees that process.

    When we use it with executives, they don’t need a lot of explanation. They have someone managing hiring, accounts payable, Agile process, etc. Why would they NOT have someone managing the company’s core process?

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