April 17, 2019

5 Signs That Your Product Organization is Failing You

Mark Isbitts

Mark Isbitts
Independent Consultant & Advisor/Rafuah Group

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Having worked in Product Management for over 17 years, and most recently consulted with healthcare tech companies, I have begun to see patterns in how many organizations approach their product strategy and their ability to execute. In my current consulting work, I see some common trends across my clients and other tech vendors which I follow, that hinder their progress and standing in the market.


1. Roadmaps do not have a single owner who is accountable to the CEO


Having a product roadmap is more than just a list of new products, new features or bug fixes that you want or hope to do. While it may be partly aspirational, the roadmap still has to be obtainable and realistic. A roadmap should be designed as the vehicle to communicate your product and portfolio strategy across the entire organization and your clients. In particular, the roadmap should help Engineering determine staffing and set priorities. A roadmap is “evergreen” and continuously changing, so it is essential that Product Management takes ownership of what goes on to the list and, perhaps most importantly, how it is prioritized. In order to manage the process, the overall portfolio roadmap needs a single owner so that any disagreements with items and prioritizations can be discussed among a group, but the owner must have the final determination.


2. There is no formal Product organization or what exists reports in too ‘low’ in the company


When you are asked, “Who is ultimately responsible for your product (or solution) strategy?”, does your answer contain the words “Product” or “Solution” in it? When Product Management is beholden to Engineering, Marketing, Sales or other stakeholders, based on the organizational structure, they will not feel empowered or accountable to make decisions. The role of product management inherently carries with it the understanding that your decisions will not make everyone happy, but may be what is best for the market, your customer base and the organization.


3. Releases are continuously delayed, and no one is certain when they will occur


I’ve recently spoken with a few vendors where product, engineering, sales, marketing and other areas are not certain when to expect major releases, new product launches and other product issues. This is typically a symptom of road mapping issues (see #1 above), but could also be due to product release process issues. Other than the obvious reasons, severe delays will eventually lead to dissatisfaction and mistrust among your customer base and an overall negative customer experience.


4. Your Go-To-Market consists exclusively of Marketing and Sales activities


This is a phenomenon that I have started seeing more frequently across several companies. When asked about a Go-To-Market strategy, I often get responses that are deep in detail but focused exclusively on the Sales and Marketing aspects of a launch (be it for new features, new products or something else). While these components, such as sales tools, marketing collateral, demos, etc. are vital, there are many “behind the scenes” tactics that must be in place to ensure a successful GTM strategy. One area in particular (and where I’ve been burned before) is with implementation services. Ensuring that all documentation is in place, customer training plans and that the services team is fully on-board with how to get a new customer started is critical to a launch. There should always be a comprehensive go-to-market strategy that to customers feels like a holistic and seamless experience with all components talking ‘in one voice’.


5. Ideation is a great buzz word used, but the organization has problems with execution


There are many buzzwords that enter in and out of the business lexicon. One of the most commonly used right now is the term “ideation”. Most companies that I’ve worked with consider “ideation” to be how they determine product strategy. The challenges I have seen with Ideation are usually that there are no set vetting processes in place and/or there is no final arbiter to determine where on the broader product strategy portfolio any given idea should be prioritized. This leads to many great ideas with little execution.

If you are experiencing any of these challenges in your organization, it may be time to take a step back and evaluate how effective your product organization is and what their role is across the enterprise. In my experience, if you self-score the above questions and get any grades lower than ‘B’, that time is now.

Comments? You can contact me directly via my AdvisoryCloud profile.

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