Product management provides an essential but often underrated function in technology organizations. The role of product management in an organization is to bridge the gap between product development and the market. Often these responsibilities are contained in specific job functions within a dedicated product management organization; however, marketing and product development are other possible”homes” for product managers.
A product manager is essentially the CEO of a product and manages the processes that determine everything around the product and how it marketed. In general, product managers must master a wide range of management disciplines, including:
Adding to the complexity of product management in technology organizations is the fact that it is often third parties who deliver significant parts of the customer value. It is the product manager’s job to take care of these external relationships while also liaising with all other departments within your organization.
The interpersonal, political, strategic and functional demands of product managers make it a role that draws on all sorts of talents, and the broad scope of the product manager’s work makes their success closely aligned with that of the company.
The biggest risk for tech startups in the Early Market can unfold on the customer side; that is, the risk that your technology is implemented incorrectly in the customer organization—or worse, that it causes significant disruption to their operations and significantly harms the customer’s business and their experience with your product.
Product managers in the Early Market must focus on reducing this risk when establishing a value chain (one that can be scaled and fine-tuned as the market develops).
In the IT sector, this often involves finding technology partners and system integrators with particular expertise that complement your product and knowledge of the customers’ systems. No matter which industry you are in, your startup should aim to build relationships with technology partners who already have established customer relationships within your target market.
Realistically, a startup does not offer a complete whole product at this stage. In its place you must be able to present an attractive product roadmap in order to secure the buy-in of partners and customers.
Successfully crossing the Chasm means translating the roadmap developed in the Early Market into a whole product.
Managing a whole product means that on a daily basis, product managers must look for ways to augment the value chain in line with the company’s strategy. As the company moves from having a core product to building a whole product, this process will grow increasingly complex with the involvement of more and more value chain partners.
Crossing the chasm also means that product management moves to incorporate market sensing. In order to make it across the chasm, the company must switch its customer focus from visionaries in the Early Market to specific market niches in the Bowling Alley.
The product manager’s objective is to ensure that the company develops an excellent product that solves the target niche customer’s problem. To do so, the guiding light for product managers is the customer pain at the other side of the chasm (i.e, the business problems that you can solve that will propel your company to cross the chasm) and the development of a product that will give those potential niche customers a compelling reason to buy.
Changing the focus to the needs of new target niches means ignoring the functionality requests from the visionaries, and this can seem counterintuitive for product managers.
Also, at this stage, much of product management’s efforts have to centre on the orchestration of the value chain, to allow for well-timed product launches in order to integrate the product with marketing and sales efforts.
To grow beyond the Bowling Alley, consider the following questions:
Wiefels, P. (2002). The Chasm Companion. New York: Harper Business.