Cranky Product Management

What is needed to make your products successful? That is one of the topics covered in the high-spirited discussion with The Cranky Product Manager (a.k.a. CPM). In this interview Michael talks with the CPM about several interesting topics. Although the CPM writes and talks in third person, she has a wealth of knowledge about product management and marketing.

Michael and the CPM discuss four key areas of product management:

  • PMs are “the product entrepreneurs” within the company
  • It doesn’t matter where PMs report in their organization
  • The “sales droids” are important to your organization; CPM said: “I love sales”
  • Product management is a leadership role in your organization.

The Cranky PM knows how to make PM fun and will keep you engaged (even if the voice you hear is not quite here own). Take a listen and let us know what you think.


#1 Saeed Khan on 09.02.09 at 9:33 pm

The CPM is wrong! Though I do give her credit for remembering that I “violently disagreed” with her on the point of where Product Management belongs in an organization.

I think the CrankyPM’s statistical sample (companies she has worked in) is far too small and too skewed by the CPM’s awesomeness (as a fictional PM).


#2 Interview with the Cranky Product Manager « Lead on Purpose on 09.02.09 at 10:15 pm

[…] of knowledge and contributes considerably to the product management industry. Today I published an interview with the Cranky PM on my podcast the Product Management Pulse. It was a privilege talking with her and finding out […]

#3 The Cranky Product Manager on 09.03.09 at 12:10 pm

Saeed, tsk tsk. There you go again. Always being so disagreeable. In response to your “statistical sample” comment, the Cranky PM says BRING IT ON! Where is YOUR statistical study showing that Product Management is most effective when in its own organization? And how did your research study determine “most effective”??

#4 Scott Sehlhorst on 10.01.09 at 7:00 am

I expect that any particular product manager (or product management director or whatever) will have the opportunity to be the most effective when reporting to someone from a different discipline. For example, a former developer can have more impact when reporting to a former marketer.

I base my premise on my college experience: My pre-college nature as a pending-mechanical-engineer was to be hands-on and practical. I had intuition as the guiding force to how I solved ‘engineering’ problems. I had the option to join a very pragmatic, hands-on, empirical engineering program or to join one that was theoretical and analytical (Carnegie Mellon). I chose the latter, and thank my lucky stars that I did.

I was able to broaden my perspective and develop analysis and modeling skills that allowed me to ‘test’ my intuition before solving problems. I was exposed to approaches (and the root causes of their effectiveness) that allowed me to tackle problems more efficiently by winnowing the approaches I would consider to those more likely to yield results. I was able to incorporate the analytical approach into my “intuition processes” and combine the two to solve problems.

This exposure to differing perspectives gave me an opportunity to develop a comprehensive approach that allowed me to succeed more effectively by broadening my perspective than if I had only focused on emphasizing the strengths I already had.

If I had had a penchant for mathematical abstractions and lacked mechanical aptitude, Carnegie Mellon would have helped me build my strengths while ignoring my weaknesses. I think it would have helped me become a fantastic researcher or theoretician (as it did for many of my classmates). I don’t believe that it would have helped me become as effective of an engineer.

Like engineering, product management requires both breadth of perspective and depth of skill. Any particular product management role will require someone to be effective to some level across most disciplines (market sensing and engagement, driving engineering, strategic / financial planning, sales support, etc). Each product management activity will require more depth in one area than another. The mix of those activities will vary from product to product, as will the depth required in any of them. So the ideal organization (for any particular product manager) will be one that helps them improve in the areas where they need the most improvement.

As to anecdotal versus statistically relevant data, my background is in having worked with two controls / control system companies (serving white-goods and durable goods industries B2B), a few software companies (enterprise B2B and B2B2C, startup B2C),and in the software corners of (a couple dozen high-tech B2B and B2C, insurance, finance/banking, consumable, durable goods) companies. I’ve also had conversations with product managers in many other domains that are consistent with my world-view, FWIW.

When you have an “impedance mismatch” with your organization, it will either help you (as I outline above) or hurt you.

As a product manager, you have to have leadership skills and be an effective communicator. If you’re unable to convince “those other people” about the value of your unique skills or perspective, you won’t be valued in a mismatched organization. When that is true, you won’t succeed, because the contributions you could make would be marginalized.

As a product manager, you also have to have the perspective that you are _learning_ all the time (about your markets, problems, customers, competition…). Your opinion, while interesting… If you are unable to apply that same perspective to the importance of ideas from “those other people” then you won’t be able to benefit from being in an incongruent organization. And you’ll fail to deliver on the things “those other people” value, so you’ll probably fail, and certainly won’t thrive in that organization.

When you’re in an “aligned” organization (aligned with your background / affinity / inclinations), you have to become the champion for “those other people” and make sure that those complimentary viewpoints get their fair shake within your organization. If you don’t, you’ll take a myopic approach to managing your product, which will certainly undermine its opportunities to succeed.

I don’t really care where the organization reports in the abstract, because of my perspective (outlined above). Personally, because I have a pre-product-management engineering and software development background, I have to work harder to assure a broad perspective when I’m reporting to someone who shares that background. But the shared context I have with that leader makes it easier for me to make the case for the importance of “those other approaches.”

All politics is local. A given product manager is going to thrive (and therefore her product will thrive) when she is able to be T-shaped (both broad and deep) in her role.

If I were forced to design an org for product management at a new company, I would probably have it report to the CMO, and then hire product managers with technical backgrounds who reported to a director of product management who can “straddle the fence” and help grow those product managers so that they can be both broad and deep.

#5 Scott Sehlhorst on 10.01.09 at 7:01 am

Wow, that was longer than I realized. Sorry ’bout that – off the soapbox now.

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