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What is the goal for your product line?

Companies too often view the product manager as the person who delivers product requirements, or direction to the developers on what to build next. In my view, Product Management is a much broader mandate. We need to write requirements for our company's capabilities, not just the service or software product that we deliver.Of course we can't just run around the whole company stating requirements for each department, and the situation can be very complicated when a company delivers and supports many products; a single product manager cannot always redesign the support process for her product, even if that is necessary.

But my argument is that the product manager needs to consider the whole chain of product delivery, from product development through marketing, pre-sales, sales, post-sales implementation, support, and upgrade. PMs are getting lost if they simply worry about version n+1 of the product, because the product itself may not be the problem or the solution.

So where should you focus? To answer this question you need to answer other questions first:

  1. what is the company's goal for your product line?
  2. what is the fundamental constraint that hinders the product from achieving it's goal.

With these answers, you can start to write real requirements, but not necessarily for the product. (For this analysis I've adopted the Theory of Constraints by Eliyahu M. Goldratt. If you haven't read The Goal you need to get it immediately... after you read the rest of this post.)

The Goal by Eliyahu M. Goldratt

Let's start with The Goal. Product managers can have different goals, and these depend on the company's goal for their product line. Sometimes our goal is to deliver a v 1.0 product that demonstrates vision. (Quality is Job 1.1). There are many possible goals, but common ones include market share, revenue growth, and profitability. It is not usually possible to optimize for more than one of these goals, so this is the first question you should answer: What is the company's goal for my product line?

Many senior executives or CEOs refuse to answer the question; they want all three, which is just not possible. (If it is in your case, please let me know.) To gain market share, we may need to spend a lot of money on marketing, or beef up the product to fend off competitors. To achieve or maximize profitability, our sales strategy may be to penetrate deeply in accounts instead of achieving breadth of coverage in the market. In any case, it is rarely effective to optimize for many goals.

If they won't answer the question for you, propose your own answer and defend it with rationale. In your argument, provide a high-level description of what you would need to do to optimize for two or three possible goals; this may show why you can't optimize for more than one.Use your proposal as a straw man. Encourage debate among the executive team, and emphasize that you want to find the right answer rather than forcing your own answer; but you do need to drive the discussion to closure.

Once you know the goal, your next step is to figure out what is constraining the product from achieving that goal. More on that in a future post.

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