How do you design a large product management team?

The first product managers were on their own. Now, more product managers are part of a #prodmgmt team. And in larger teams, in larger enterprises, we’re specializing. Imagine if you only had one hat to wear, able to focus on one of the product subdisciplines. What will product manager speciation produce?

Many professionals and executives have a “team” that helps them be better at their job, usually outside where they work. For a product pro:

  • Deeper experts. Product managers are generalists. What we need to know is widening to cover more subjects while the spew of new knowledge in those fields is accelerating. Nobody can keep up with it all. So seek friends or consultants who can share their narrower and deeper expertise with you, answering questions or just briefing you on the latest in the psychology of persuasion over coffee.
  • Communication pros. You’re spending a godawful amount of time writing, in meetings, and presenting. You’ll want contractors to save you time and increase the quality of your talks, so Prezi pros to tune up your decks, illustrators to make your points, transcribers for meeting notes, copy editors to proof your words, media consultants to polish your press Q&A, a stylist to edit your pathetic wardrobe, speechwriters and joke writers to make your talks more effective, and someone to remind you to listen.
  • Product mentors. Others have been their, done that, before you. Learn how to be a good mentee to more experienced or insightful product people. Grab a mentee or two of your own and pay it forward.
  • Coaches. Great coaches help you master workplace basics, get your act together, and then build competencies and awareness you’ll use through your career.

Your product management team after speciation

Most software product management involves relatively small ratios of developer-to-product manager, in the 5-to-1 to 20-to-1 range. What do you do when your product has hundreds or thousands of developers working on it, like big enterprise systems? Product management becomes a function with many members and specialties emerge to make it work. Some emerging specialties:

  • Coordination. These are keepers of the feature lists. Just keeping track can be a full time job as scale grows. Add product portfolio management.
  • Roadmapping. Negotiating consensus around major milestones, themes, and releases requires political acumen and diplomatic skill.
  • User Researchers. The full time version of sneaking an hour to run A/B tests this week. Add statistical depth and more field investigation.
  • Agile customers. Writing user stories, accepting/rejecting work, and otherwise being the prodmgmt representative on this dev team. And that dev team.
  • Hospice. With 50 products in your portfolio, you’re likely retiring a product or a major release every week or two. Reapers will manage graceful exits for all the systems and stakeholders affected.
  • External relations. Some product categories (like health) have very strong outside stakeholders like government regulators, heavyweight customers, and press. This product manager is an ambassador to these outside stakeholders when they require attention in big doses.
  • Product Science. The team that leads product management process improvement. That measures how well the product management practices perform, making prodmgmt better. Advancing the art.

First posted on Quora.