Don Vendetti on the State of Product Management and ProdBOK
I know that you’re very active doing product management consulting in the Seattle area. What are your observations about the evolution of product management?
(Don Vendetti) Greg, thanks for the opportunity. I started my career on the engineering side (eons ago), and was fortunate to get into a company with a strong development process that included product managers who managed the entire product lifecycle, and with a high level of collaboration. What was odd to experience – as I moved on – was how narrowly defined the product management role was in other companies. It was frequently reduced to a support role for either Development or Sales, or both. Over time as I evolved to leading the product management function, I was getting hired into organizations to “fix” the department, as the function wasn’t doing what the organization needed or expected. This is also often the case for why I’m hired as a consultant.
The success of product management in any organization is highly dependent on three key foundations. First, the executive team needs to view the function as strategic and realize the importance of linking the company strategy to the product strategy. Without this driver, the product managers will inherently be relegated to a tactical function. Next, clear roles and responsibilities need to be defined for the how the team works with the rest of the organization. Other complementary functions also need to also be appropriately defined and staffed, such as project managers, technical sales support, and technical architecture or planning resources. Without them, the product manager will be forced to pick up the roles and get spread thin or there will be a large gap that’s addressed in an ad-hoc manner. Finally, the product managers themselves need to have a broad skill base, both strategic and tactical, to span all of the needed tasks.
Unfortunately, while there are bright spots here and there where all these elements are in place and product managers are really making a difference, the overall industry situation has lots of room for improvement.
As you look back on the last five years what do you think the most significant changes to the product management profession have been?
(Don Vendetti) One thing that is clear is the need for product management is as strong as it’s ever been, and is continually misunderstood as to the value it can provide. As far as changes go, the two biggest that I’ve seen are both in the software branch of the product management tree.
Agile is the first and has been a double-edged sword. On one hand, the role of product owner that many product managers perform has enabled them to engage more with the Development team on a regular basis. What I hear from Development managers is they finally feel like the product managers are adding value to their organization more than in the past. However, on the flip side, this has often resulted in less ability for the product managers to focus on the longer term product strategy and also ensure proper delivery of the product to the rest of the organization. I’ve seen this work the best when a product manager is partnered with a dedicated product owner who’s more of a requirements specialist, like a business analyst. This allows the day-to-day interaction with the Development team while also ensuring the more strategic and broader cross-functional activities are being effectively covered.
The second change is in the user experience (UX) and design side, and I’ve seen the responsibility increasingly moving from the Development team to the Product Management team. While this is a positive change in my view, since the user interface (UI) is such a major part of a software product, it has created the unfortunate situation that many product managers are doing UI design with no formal training and without the help of qualified UX professionals. There is clearly a shortage of UX professionals to go around, so product managers that find themselves in this position would benefit greatly with some formal training in UX, and it would absolutely raise their value to any software organization.
Do you think the new ProdBOK will help to address any of the challenges we have discussed so far? If so, how?
(Don Vendetti) I do believe the ProdBOK can help create awareness about the importance and the potential of the role, and how it can deliver higher value to a company than just short term tactical deliverables. If you’ve never been in an organization with a fully functioning product management group well aligned with the other functions, then you probably don’t even know what the possibilities could be.
In writing sections of the ProdBOK, I tried to clearly identify where and how the product manager creates the most value, while acknowledging that they often also have to wear many tactical hats. I’ve also tried to point out the areas where others need to take the lead in the process so that the product manager can stay focused on the market need/problem and delivery of the whole product across the organization.
At this point of the profession’s continuing evolution, getting a consistent view of the role is probably the number one opportunity for the ProdBOK to achieve, even if the role is customized in various ways to meet the unique needs of each company. And, of course, executives and other functional leaders need to be exposed to it to understand the opportunity available to them.
Don, why did you choose to participate in the development of ProdBOK?
(Don Vendetti) As part of my consulting practice, I’ve also done a fair amount of product management teaching in a university extension program, and through formal training courses within my consulting practice. This has given me the opportunity to look at the entire product management lifecycle process, and especially the upfront product strategy piece, while experimenting with different ways of implementing it. I also enjoy writing and have written several articles which are available on my website. The opportunity to help on the project seemed like something that leveraged my background and could have a bigger impact than I could make directly through consulting.
I also thought I could get it done in a few months. Hah! Here we are a year later finally getting this industry-wide collaborative effort to publication. The whole project was very much like creating a new product, including the twists and turns you have to make along the way as you encounter trade-offs.
Any final thoughts?
(Don Vendetti) Just a couple of last comments. First, I’m certain this is just the beginning of a journey for product management to establish a strong footing and I expect the ProdBOK to evolve significantly over time. This is a first attempt and there is plenty of room to expand it and fill in the blanks going forward as product management is a dynamic profession. Of course it helps to have someone like you driving the vision and deliverables, and I enjoyed working with you Greg.
Second, in some ways, contributing to this publication has helped me realize that I do miss being actively engaged in the development of products, as consulting usually only gets me limited playing time in a part of the game. So, moving forward, I’ll be heading back into the product world to be an active participant running a marketing and product management function and attempting to apply the concepts described in the ProdBOK.
Editors Note: Thanks Don. On behalf of the ProdBOK editorial team I want to express our appreciation for your significant contributions to the effort. I also want to offer my personal thanks as you’re great to work with as well! I look forward to future collaborations and best of luck with your new position!
Greg Geracie is a recognized thought leader in the field of product management and the President of Actuation Consulting, a global provider of product management consulting, training, and advisory services to some of the world’s most well-known organizations. Greg is also the author of the global best seller Take Charge Product Management. He is also an adjunct professor at DePaul University’s College of Computing and Digital Media where he teaches graduate and undergraduate courses on high-tech and digital product management.
ProdBOK is a registered trademark of AIPMM.