The Rise and Importance of Internal Product Leadership

Product Leadership — it’s not just for the market.

Do a quick search for Product Leader or Product Manager and glance through the first page of results. I’d wager that most of your results focused around building products for businesses and customers in the market.

Those product roles are rewarding, necessary and important for the growth of a company. However, there’s also a less common, but equally important type of product role, where the focus is inward-facing: internal Product Leaders.

As companies become more information-based, these roles are vital in helping them succeed.

Internal, External… What’s the difference?

The main difference between external and internal Product Leaders are their customers:

  • Whereas an external Product Leader’s customers are external to their company, an internal Product Leader’s customers are their colleagues working in different parts of their organization.
  • Whereas an external Product Leader’s KPI’s are often tied to growth metrics such as customer acquisition or activity, an internal Product Leader’s KPI’s are typically tied to information flow and operational efficiency.
  • Whereas an external Product Leader wants to increase usage of their custom-built products, an internal Product Leader knows that the best solution to a problem may come from a 3rd Party.

But they’re more alike than different. Regardless of whether they’re external or internal-facing, the focus is the customer, their needs and providing solutions for their jobs to be done.

Death by 1000 Information-related Paper Cuts

As we move deeper into the information economy, companies are increasingly employing people who use their minds to help their company’s grow. These people — knowledge workers — are a company’s most valuable resource.

And for knowledge workers, their most valuable resource is time.

Knowledge workers add value by using their minds to figure out how to achieve goals within some area of their company. They best do this when their time is freed up, thus allowing them to think deeply and holistically about the problems they’re tasked with solving.

Unfortunately, far too many companies squander their most valuable resources’ most valuable resource.

Sometimes this stems from excessive meetings, sometimes it comes from distraction, but those can be managed with discipline.

What’s harder to fix is the compounded cost that comes from having knowledge workers operate inefficiently. This occurs when knowledge workers find themselves spending excessive time on pre-requisite tasks necessary to do something, rather than doing the thing itself.

  • It’s the time one spends searching spreadsheets for data points in order to use those data points to perform an analysis.
  • It’s the time one spends reaching out to colleagues for siloed information in order to think through implications and make a decision.
  • It’s the time one spends navigating a maze of status updates in order to to use those updates to course correct.

And the list goes on. Death by 1000 information-related paper cuts.

A State of Flow

Information is the lifeblood of the modern company and the way it flows in today’s day and age is unprecedented. As a company’s workforce grows linearly in size, its information flow grows exponentially.

The role of the internal Product Leader is to uncover inefficiencies that prevent each knowledge worker from optimizing the use of their time, unlocking their minds, and reaching a state of flow.

Together, with Engineering and Business Leaders, they form a problem-solving trifecta that help information companies grow by bringing forth the right solutions for the right problems at the right time.