One Product Manager, Four Teams?
John Cutler

I like the idea of product management apprenticeships to cultivate talent. With “merit badges” (or another name) as interim marks of accomplishment, you should be able to walk an apprentice through a curriculum of challenges that will cover the full range and depth of product leadership. They would wind up with a large portfolio of small accomplishments that demonstrate their competence and readiness to take on more responsibility.

However, this doesn’t solve your scale problems beyond the incremental. You still have span-of-control and volume-of-work issues.

I believe the solution lies in breaking apart the product management function into dedicated, specialized roles.

  • Product Coordinators. These are keepers of the feature lists and backlogs. Holders of explicit assumptions. Just keeping track can be a full time job as scale grows. Add product portfolio management. Counterpart to project coordinator. Attention to detail.
  • Roadmappers. Negotiating consensus around major milestones, themes, and releases requires political acumen and diplomatic skill. Keeper of product vision and the big picture. Extrovert.
  • User Researchers. The full time version of sneaking an hour to run A/B tests this week. Add statistical depth and more ethnographic field investigation. Evidence driven.
  • Agile Product Owners. Writing user stories, accepting/rejecting work, and otherwise being the prodmgmt representative on this dev team. And that dev team. Fluent in user and dev.
  • Product Hospice. With 50 products in your portfolio, you’re likely retiring a product or a major release every week or two. Product 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 and advocate for 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.

Together: scale.