If you’re responsible for a product as a product manager, you know how short time can get. The team, the internal and external business environment, evaluating new opportunities and risks every week, developing strategies and tactics, and daily operational incidents all need attention. As products and teams get larger, the question becomes how to relieve or divide the role of any tasks. There are good and bad alternatives that can have serious consequences.
No separation of responsibilities within the role
To make good decisions, product managers need access to key knowledge sources and the mandate to intervene directly in decision-making processes. This includes:
- Access to customers, partners and service providers to evaluate any problem and validate possible solutions.
- Access to key business stakeholders from sales, marketing, support, controlling, legal and other internal areas to evaluate solutions and frameworks.
- Access to the development team — including all contributors — for the evaluation of possible solutions and for necessary decisions in the further development of the products.
Some insights, ideas and solutions can only emerge, if all three areas are considered together. If you divide the role in product management into two areas of responsibility, you automatically separate access to knowledge and interaction with key stakeholders.
A popular way to divide the role is to have a product owner work with a team to come up with solutions, while a business (product) manager determines the strategy and market requirements. If there is no outstanding symbiosis between the two roles, both sides lose part of the overall context. The team is disconnected from the market and many stakeholders, while the business manager is disconnected from ideas, solutions and technical innovations from the team space.
What are the options instead?
Separation of products or domains
One option is to split products. The responsibility of the role remains the same, but the division shrinks the scope of the role, the team size and the number of stakeholders. This reduces the number of necessary decisions and interactions, which means less effort in practical terms. Ideally, the opportunity arises to perform a logical division of business entities, e.g., by target groups, products, or combinations of both. In the case of a marketplace product, for example, this could first be the division according to supply and demand, and then at a later point in time a further division according to products (shop and backend system).
The second alternative — especially for large products — is to further divide products into business domains that can perform their own missions and pursue their own goals as independently as possible. This could be, for example, service components of all kinds for which separate product managers are responsible.
If the presumably still existing technical and organizational dependencies are reduced in the course of such separations, the task load of the individual responsible persons will drop significantly despite the remaining need for coordination.
In this context, it should be mentioned that the division could result in the need to create new superior roles. Especially if the complexity of coordination among the teams or the span of leadership among the senior executives becomes too great, such a step is advisable.
Delegation of tasks
Depending on the role definition, there are tasks in Product Management that can be delegated since they do not directly affect the core of the role:
- Project management & rollout activities can be taken over by a separate role if the workload is high. There are different ways of doing this, depending on whether it is an overarching complex project across all teams (e.g. temporary for a relaunch), a complex organization (e.g. for market rollouts in many subsidiaries) or a complex interaction of the teams (e.g. as a PMO position for the coordination of various projects at an higher level).
- The creation of a product marketing role can reduce the workload of the product organization at the interface to marketing. Documentation, communication, and all necessary tasks to support acquisition, pricing, and sales strategies from a product perspective.
- UX can take on more tasks than the core role — interaction and graphic design — often includes in companies. Depending on the skills, this may include the time-consuming preparation of customer interviews or customer tests, copywriting, or competitor analyses.
- Developers can reduce the workload by ensuring that there is an excellent level of test coverage, which means that there is no testing workload in product management and little operational support. Developers can also work out technical requirements and concepts on their own in coordination with product management.
- Agile coaches and team management can ensure that the expertise required in the team is available and does not have to be compensated. Also, efficient tools will help the team to save time.
- Team assistants or similar roles can provide organizational support, insofar as product managers or agile coaches are allowed to utilize their support.
These measures should ensure that, in addition to all operational and deadline-related tasks, there is enough time for the core of the job: identifying important customer problems, developing good strategies for the company, and making good product decisions.