Product Management Implementation: A Real World Case Study (Part 2)

This is the second post in a series about developing an expansion stage product management team. To read the intro to the series, click here. To read the first post, click here.

In the previous two posts in this series, I’ve laid out why, when, and how expansion stage software companies need to transition their new product development strategy from a product development/innovation approach, to a more formal product management function.

And if you’ve read those posts, you’ll recall that I promised to share the experience of one of OpenView’s portfolio companies as they discovered the need to create, structure and implement their own formal product management department.

Time to follow through on that promise.

Below are some thoughts from that portfolio company’s VP of Product on what product development and delivery problems prompted the business’s leadership to decide it needed to implement a PM function and how it got started creating one:

On realizing the impediment to more efficient growth…

“Customers come to our company looking for us to innovate and solve real problems, helping them do things faster and better. The good news is that a lot of customers have been coming to our company over the last few years. But with that increase in customers has come suggestions, ideas, and customer needs that bombarded us from every direction.

Sometimes these customizations are “must haves” to close a sale. Other times, they are features that a customer wants to be assured are on our long-term roadmap. So, in the past, we have done what smart entrepreneurial people do – we close the deal, tough it out and find a way to deliver a solution to our customers. It may not be the exact solution that they expected (right product), but they get a solution.

For the most part, we would get the customer to an initial go-live. I am often amazed at what has been delivered by the professional services team. However, like most of the Matrix movies, the product would not live up to the hype. In other words, our customers came to us (the WHOLE COMPANY) with very high expectations and the company (the WHOLE COMPANY) made a commitment to deliver a solution. We tried very hard to follow through, but that customer was sometimes ultimately left feeling a little bit empty because they did not feel like their expectations had been fully met.

So, after all the hard work, countless hours of meetings, unhealthy quantities of Red Bull and caffeine, we often found ourselves in some flavor of escalation. Bummer.”

On beginning to look at product strategy differently…

“Ultimately, we needed to ensure that, as a company, we were building the right products for our customers. I know, I know – seems like a no-brainer. But, believe it or not, building the right product is actually a huge challenge and one that a lot of software companies struggle with. However, it’s also something that we have to get right.

Before we had any official product management function, our professional services team had to take some product stuff, figure out what’s in it and then add some more stuff in order to get a product delivered to the customer. For you math majors, the formula might look something like: (Company Product (toolkit)) + (Magic Professional Services “Configuration”) + Prayer + Hope = #$&*@ and unmet expectations.

So we started to take an alternate view of the universe. In this universe a customer comes to our company looking for a product. The customer expects our product (core product) to be augmented by everything that is needed for them to have a compelling reason to buy, and we give it to them. It is the tangible product that the customer experiences. This is the whole product.

The whole product augments the core product with additional elements required for the product to have compelling value to a customer, including the software, training classes, training manuals, validation documentation, configuration, a choice of delivery (on premise or in the cloud) and a simple installation. Without these additional product components, the core product would not be very useful, would it?

During the past few months, the product organization has been working to lay the groundwork so that we are always focused on delivering the whole product that our customers expect.

So, there you go. That sets up the real world problem that this company faced, why it was a significant impediment to its long term growth, and, ultimately, how the management team realized it could remove it with the creation of a product management function.

In the next post in this series, I’ll share some final thoughts from the company’s VP of Product on the specific actions and product management initiatives that helped the business advance its whole product strategy. The post will include some widely applicable principles, questions, tips, and strategies that apply to almost any growth stage software company experiencing similar issues.

If you have an interesting story to tell about your own experience creating a PM department within your company (or some tips for how to do it), feel free to share them below!

The Chief Executive Officer

Firas was previously a venture capitalist at Openview. He has returned to his operational roots and now works as The Chief Executive Officer of Everteam and is also the Founder of nsquared advisory. Previously, he helped launch a VC fund, start and grow a successful software company and also served time as an obscenely expensive consultant, where he helped multi-billion-dollar companies get their operations back on track.
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