Posted by Tom Grant on July 6, 2009
For people in product management and product marketing, organizational questions—for example, Where should we report? What specializations of the PM role seem to work?—are always high on the list of hot topics. That statement is true of this week's Heretech podcast, to be posted later today, in which Saeed Khan and I spend a good deal of the interview discussing these issues. It's also true of the research that I do, including a recent study that revealed some interesting results about the relationship between product management and product marketing.
A small chapter in a bigger story
Unfortunately, this latest research about these organizational questions puts me in a bit of a bind, since I'd like to share more of the results than I can. Forrester always requires you to be a client to access our research, with minor exceptions. In the case of the just-finished study, "Best Practices For Product Management And Product Marketing Leaders," I'm really constrained. Members of the Forrester Leadership Board (FLB) for PMs asked us to do this study, which gets circulated among the FLB members, but not all Forrester clients. (It's one of the perks of FLB membership.) If there's a curtain between the general public and the typical Forrester research, there's yet another one between you, Dear Reader, and the FLB research.
Fortunately, we can always share a little bit of information from our research, even if we can't share everything. In this case, I'll share what we learned about one important organizational question: Should product managers and product marketers be part of the same department? Looking at successful PM teams, the answer is, Generally, yes.
What makes a successful team?
For this research, we deliberately picked successful PM leaders for our interviews. The adjective successful could mean a lot of things, and in our case, it meant...
Tenure. The PM department heads whom we interviewed have been doing the job for at least a few years.
Authority. These PM leaders handle important deliverables and activities, such as go-to-market strategy and product portfolio management.
Accountability. Along with real decision-making power over matters like product strategy, these PM groups bear responsibility for the business outcomes of these decisions.
In other words, you know you're successful when the company entrusts you with important things.
One group or two?
Since I started doing research on product management and product marketing, I've seen a lot of different organizational formulas. Sometimes, these two groups are separate. At other times, they're two sides of the same group. I've also seen these job functions broken down further, with the pieces scattered even more widely around the organization. We've also spoken with groups that have introduced new roles, such as solutions manager and community manager, that overlap with the product management and product marketing functions.
Therefore, when we reviewed our interviews for "Best Practices For Product Management And Product Marketing Leaders," we were genuinely surprised to discover that approximately 80% of our interviewees ran departments that combined product management and product marketing. That's a result worth italicizing.
These arrangements made sense, since product people look to the same information about business problems, use cases, personas, competitors, and other aspects of the market. This knowledge guides everything from broad-brush messaging to nitpicky feature/function priorities.
Of course, separating product managers and product marketers also makes sense. However, the habits of these highly successful PM leaders strongly imply that the unified department not only makes sense, but also works. There are lots of reasons why, including both external and internal ones. For example, if you're going to produce different content for different audiences—requirements for Development, demos for Marketing and Sales—that's ultimately based on the same customer and product knowledge, that process goes a lot more smoothly when you don't have two separate groups trying to stay in sync.
Two jobs, but what do you call the one department?
The success of the unified product management/product marketing model makes me wonder if there's a a good umbrella term for both of them. "Product professionals" doesn't quite do it for me, and we definitely don't want to confuse the two distinct functions, even if they wind up under the same management. I'm certainly open to suggestions.
[Cross-posted at The Heretech.]