It’s Time To Get Serious About Developing Product Muscle

It’s amazing how many companies have lost their product mojo when they replaced their product-oriented founder with a CEO coming from sales, marketing, business development or finance. Unfortunately, CEOs that are sales or finance-led believe acquisitions or managing costs is the key to growth. But, it’s not!

"I have my own theory about why the decline happens…The company does a great job…in some field, and then the quality of the product becomes less important. The company starts valuing the great salesmen, because they’re the ones who can move the needle on revenues, not the product engineers and designers. So the salespeople end up running the company." – Steve Jobs

This lack of empowerment is what makes a product manager’s job chaotic and frustrating. The product manager role is stressful. Not just for the day-to-day tactical work, but the challenges of stakeholder and cross functional team management can be a lot. Being pulled into so many different directions can make it hard to get a control on product. It can test even the strongest of product managers.

Top 4 Tips For Enabling Roadmap Evolution
From establishing a product-led culture early on in an organization to ensuring collaboration between product leadership and the product manager, there are a number of tips and actions that can be implemented to enable successful product development and roadmap creation and evolution. Let’s take a closer look.

  1. Invest in a product manager and establish a product-led culture
Unfortunately, organizations that aren’t product-led don’t see the value in becoming so. They don’t have a justifiable reason if they already have a strong product-market-fit and customer base. But it’s the organizations with low product maturity that suffer, with multiple engineering teams shipping in parallel and releasing features without the support team even knowing about it. Communication is completely broken down. Every company, no matter how experienced and successful, has something to learn. The ones that realize this have a clear advantage.
As a CEO, it’s important to invest in a product manager and establish a product-led culture early on in the organization. Empowerment and direction from the leadership team can help keep up with the madness that is product management.
In the startup world, a lot of people become product managers by default rather than design. And oftentimes the CEO doesn’t fully grasp what a product manager does. What can typically happen is the CEO will internally promote someone with a ‘can-do’ attitude and ask them to build all the features they want or they hire someone from the outside, realize that they don’t have the ‘can-do’ attitude to build the features, and then fire them.
Product management is not a function within an organization that takes features handed to them by the C-Suite and delivers them through engineering. Product managers are the glue that binds strategy and engineering and UX/UI teams together — enabling marketing, sales and support teams to communicate the product adequately while keeping and eye out on the data collected across the features that have been released. It takes grit, determination and innovation to do the job.

  1. Product leadership and the product manager must work collaboratively
There's only one person in a product company who's main responsibility is to question the value of engineering resources being spent and the expected return on investment in shipping that feature. This isn’t the CEO’s job. The CEO’s job is to empower the product manager who has to ask the tough question ‘is any of this complexity adding business value?’.
It’s important for CEOs to surround themselves with key company stakeholders to enable the creation and evolution of the product roadmap. It’s not just the CEO who calls the shots. Not everything has to rest on their plate. What’s needed is a product leadership team that can work collaboratively with the product manager to define the next set of features to build and deploy.
It’s the product manager’s job to filter all stakeholder requests through a product-led framework, making sure they are worth the interruption cost or have enough value to justify a future investment in engineering throughput.

  1. Set clear expectations with the CEO (or product leadership team) through high-level strategic baseline
The high-level strategic baseline is a document discovered collectively between the product manager and the leadership team, and is revised frequently so as to stay abreast of changes in the market, industry, customer and competitors.
This involves reviewing the product mission, strategy, tactics and metrics with the product leadership team to make sure they have the right expectations. These are the key foundational elements to steer growth innovation. These help identify areas of opportunity outside of the company’s core business, new business models, new markets as well as new problems to solve for new or existing customers. High-level metrics (KPIs) are therefore used to validate the features soon to be released to help the company achieve success. These are what define the relationship between the customer problems that the product team is trying to solve and the revenue that the business aims to generate by doing so.

  1. Schedule a one-on-one with everyone on the product leadership team
As a product manager, it’s important to find the time to meet with everyone individually (CEO, CFO, CRO, CMO, CTO) and review the high-level baseline elements together. All stakeholders need to be focused on meeting the product mission and strategic objectives. When stakeholders don’t understand the full picture, important product decisions are made on gut feelings and the loudest voice in the room.
Ask each stakeholder what they think the product team needs to be optimizing for and what can be traded off. There’s something invigorating about talking through the KPIs each leader is trying to move and improve.

Not sure where to start in becoming product-led?
If you’re unsure where to start when it comes to developing new product muscle, then you’ve come to the right place. Our SOAPTM methodology shapes product-driven cultures within organizations. It was created for product planning and roadmap prioritization based on principles of product strategy, lean startup, user-centered design, data science and more. Let us help you to become product-led — book a demo here.

Thanks to Loren O'Brien-Egesborg for contributing to this article as well as reading drafts and overseeing aspects of its publication. Also, if you have any feedback or criticism about this article, then shoot us an email
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About Bain Public

Bain Public, acquired by X Machina-AI Inc. in January 2022, offers consistent roadmap planning processes & tools for business leaders and product managers organized around what motivates, inspires and improves growth. Bain Public offers a variety of articles, e-books and approaches designed to help organizations understand their digital strategies, introduce elements of roadmapping and establish product-led change amongst the senior leaders and managers. Our approach, product, expert advice and coaching helps entangle complex technology, people and roadmap dynamics.

About XMachina

X Machina-AI seeks to provide a platform for the acquisition of Artificial Intelligence ("AI") entities in North America. The company’s thesis is based on an aggregation strategy to acquire successful AI targets and make them better through the addition of growth capital, streamlining of corporate processes and human capital acquisitions. The current sector focus of the Company is on enhancing supply-chain efficiencies, logistics and manufacturing.