Is the discipline of product management relevant outside the sphere of technology products? How big does a company have to grow before it needs a product manager? Do organizations that create products — but do not sell them — need product management? My answers: yes, one and yes respectively. The following recent experiences illustrate my answers (please pardon my excessive use of first-person narrative):
- Non-technology: I had a conversation with my brother — a cattle rancher — about a major change he’s considering with his operations. We talked at length about the changes he’s contemplating, why he wants to change and the potential roadblocks he will face. We concluded that before he makes the final decision he needs to understand how the changes will affect his operations and make sure they point toward a viable market. Personal note: My father (also a cattle rancher) spoke often about the importance of “hitting the market.” Even though he sells cattle (a commodity) only a few times a year, he appreciates marketing. Happy birthday Dad!
- Company size: During a long drive this past weekend my wife and I had a great conversation about a new business she’s considering. She asked me questions like “how will I know there’s anyone to buy the product?” and “how do you find out what people really want?” After miles of engaging conversation I smiled at her and said “honey, you need a product manager.” We talked about what we will do in the next several weeks to gain insight and gather data about this new market she wants to pursue. I told her it’s called “market sensing.” It’s clear to me that no matter the size of your company, you need someone who listens to and understands the market.
- Non-profit organizations: Groups, institutions and organizations that create products and services for the benefit of others need to understand their markets even if they do not sell their goods. Yesterday I was talking to a good friend of mind about his experience with helping his church. He told me he uses a product management tool to get feedback from others to improve their programs. His service has had a positive effect on his congregation. My church has a significant product management team working on products and services that will never be sold but will have a major impact on millions of people throughout the world. In both instances, understanding the market (though ‘market’ is not necessarily the term they use) is key to their success in improving lives and enriching individuals.
If you are thinking about starting a company — in any industry — you need to understand your market; you need product management. If you desire to improve your company’s success, you need product management. Whether your product is a product, services, solution or other type of offering, you need product management. Whether you call it ‘product management’ or use some other name, you need the discipline instilled in product management. To succeed in an increasingly competitive global economy, you need to understand your market.
The Product Management Perspective: As product managers you already know the importance of what I’ve written here. Help me spread the word!