VP Engineering has a mandate. You need one too.

Tonight I met up for dinner with Paul Melmon, an old friend who has been around the block more than a few times. He initially gained notoriety as CIO at pets.com, and has since cycled successfully through several startups in the SF bay area, mostly as VP Engineering.

Paul shared something with me: The products are interesting, but really for him the job boils down to a few things that need to be done:

  • speed delivery
  • improve testing
  • improve the UI
  • scale the product.

Now of course a VP can’t simply show up and ask people to work harder, design better, and release with fewer bugs. Improving team performance requires a great deal of skill and experience, and a steady hand. But still, you have to like the simplicity of the mandate. Everything on the list can be measured, managed, and improved.

A Mandate for Product Management?

We need a similar mandate for Product Management. What should it be?

The list shouldn’t be long. Here’s an attempt in one sentence:

  • Align company investments with the needs of the market and the business objectives of the product line.

Unfortunately, I’m not sure how to measure, manage, or improve alignment without a LOT of hand-waving.

Go ahead, tell me what your list would look like.

– Alan

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13 responses to “VP Engineering has a mandate. You need one too.

  1. I think the Product Management mandate is very simple

    – Define products that align with the company objectives, that solve real market problems that customers are willing to pay money to solve.

    Ideally – the amount of money they are paying lines up with what you are charging – and perhaps that’s a 2nd point in the mandate – to understand what the market is willing to pay to solve the problem.

  2. You are right, alignment is a funny word for its abstrativeness. I think you are heading in the right direction, but I get lost in that sentence. Particularly when I read aligning investments with market and business needs (I never like the word business – too vague), I stumbled a bit because because of the potential of the business (what ever it is) and market competing. Not saying that was your intention but just throwing that out there.

    Because I generally agree with where you are heading with this, I thought I would tweak yours rather than re-invent my own.

    “Deliver corporate objectives through the delivery of products that achieve a sustainable leadership position.”

    I don’t really like the word objectives, and I considered replacing it with mission or vision, but that seemed too corporate. Conflict all around. However, this seems to leave me with something than can be measured internally and externally.


  3. P.S. Not sure what relevance the movie poster image has? Funny movie though.

  4. To me “aligning” is really 3 things,

    – Solves the target customer’s needs/problem/desires
    – Add measurably to company objective metrics (revenue, operating margins, etc)
    – improve prioritization of product investments (dev, marketing, sales etc.)

    What do you think, still too vague?

  5. John: I like where you’re going with this. Good breakout.

  6. Stewart: “I love you man”, the movie … talks about a “Man Date”. Mandate for PM … Man Date… a little too obscure I guess. 🙂

  7. It is all much clearer now.

  8. Biz is seats and dollars, sometimes just dollars, but then there are costs. Add, timing of revenues, so you keep your cash flows covered.

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  10. A problem with product management is that what defines a product varies so much from company to company, it is hard to have a single fast rule for it.

    Unlike technology (dev, IT etc.) the mandate is simple, they’re objective is to lower cost, and be responsive to change.

    But product is different, depending on the definition of product and the life cycle of the company/product the goal could be market share at all cost, or profit margin at all cost, so finding something generic enough to meet those two divergent needs without being too watered down can be difficult.

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