What is Product Management Consulting?
Product management is the branch of marketing that is responsible for creating winning, new product offerings. It differs from product marketing. Product managers are about inbound marketing, while product marketers are responsible for outbound marketing. This means that product managers are primarily responsible for developing new products, ensuring that the offering meets market requirements and has the right features. Product management is about creating products the market wants; product marketing is about shaping the perception of the product in the market.
Product Management Consulting is a way to transform your organization.
At TCGen, our product management consulting engagements focus on the front-end of development. We have successfully implemented a light-weight system for product portfolio management that involves two processes: 1) a yearly portfolio review, folded into the strategic planning process, and 2) an agile process that manages the day-to-day decisions that must be made to define products and move early-stage offerings to the next phase. Our product definition and product portfolio management expertise clarify the fuzzy front-end and ensure the timely delivery of more predictable, winning new products.
TCGen also has an articulated process for product definition that helps teams capture and prioritize what customers really need, transforming these needs into measurable requirements and features. Our Product Definition Scorecard ensures that teams leave no stone unturned and have all the information they need to deliver a total product to market that will delight customers. Our Circle Dot Chart for product definition will clarify responsibilities and ensure that products enter and move through the pipeline with efficiency.
Who is Product Management Consulting for?
All companies at all stages may benefit from product management consulting.
TCGen works with product companies across industries. We specialize in Consumer Electronics, High Tech, Medical Devices, and Computer Hardware and Software. But any company that wants to clarify the fuzzy front end, get closer to what customers really need, and manage its portfolio of new product ideas, may take advantage of our expertise in product management consulting.
For Smaller Companies
Smaller, relatively less mature companies need to sharply define their products to create clear differentiation in markets they wish to enter. Careful product management is essential for any size company, but especially for newer entrants, to define their products is to define their business. In smaller companies, the Chief Marketing Officer often has Product Management as a primary responsibility. In this situation, we often find that the CMO has the second most powerful position in the company because start-ups are all about product development – and they live or die by their first product release. Start-ups and smaller firms (less than 1000 employees) will benefit from the light-weight process we have used effectively with our clients.
For Larger Companies, Too
As companies grow they become more sophisticated in their marketing functions, which may become more specialized to include product marketing, brand management, corporate marketing, etc. In this case, the distinction between inbound marketing (product marketing) and outbound marketing (product management) is important division because the scope of both is so large. Product marketing is often strategic and is focused on the success of the engineering team. If the product marketing manager also must tend to customer problems and sales force fire-fighting, they often put engineering requests on the back burner. This slows down the product team and impacts morale.
Sometimes this diversification of marketing functions can add girth that feels heavier than necessary. In such a case, we would tend to turn to the Agile toolset to free up teams to do their best work. Clarifying roles and responsibilities is essential in larger companies where there are more dependencies between teams and functions. Our Circle Dot Chart is a proven method for making sure early stage products stay on track as they travel through the pipeline.
How do we structure Product Management Consulting engagements?
Typically, TCGen’s product management consulting engagements have four steps: assessment, developing key recommendations, training; and then piloting metrics to manage change by monitoring behavior.
Assessment and Prioritization
First, we conduct an assessment of the current state of product management and inbound marketing and then use the findings to pinpoint a small number of improvement levers. Desired organizational changes are teased apart and divided into incremental improvements. We then choose the most effective levers for these small improvements, and then sequence and prioritize them. We will work with real teams to help them through our customer-focused product definition process.
Target Metric for Each Improvement
For each of these key improvement levers, we establish a target metric with the aim of seeding the changes within the organization so that they take root. Only when our metrics indicate that an improvement is taking hold do we move on to the next transformation.
We may then test our recommendations with several teams and key executives. We pilot recommended product management improvements with one or two teams. This is largely a learning exercise to understand the specifics of implementation. We then provide a training program, in the form of workshops, for all relevant stakeholders.
We phase in new product management methods by first requiring only a subset of teams to use them. New teams adopt the process as they form, and we offer retraining at that time. We then attach compliance metrics with a clear goal on the order of 95% compliance within three months.
Off The Shelf Practices
In many cases, an assessment is unnecessary. In many cases the client’s needs are evident from the presenting problem and we can offer training in a specific area, be it product portfolio management or customer-focused product definition. Having a deep toolbox of processes for improving the front end of development means that we can begin to customize and apply solutions quickly.
In what kind of timeframe do organizations see change after a Product Management Consulting engagement?
In some cases, we work with in-process teams, in real time to implement our customer-focused product definition tools. In such cases, teams will see an almost immediate impact from our product management consulting work.
In other cases, a more in-depth assessment may be necessary. The assessment process may take as many as one to two months, with an additional month or two to create customized solutions and the training modules needed to deliver them. The duration of the training depends on the size of the organizations and the number of people trained. A lengthy training cycle, with international teams, may take as many as three to four months.
After the training is complete, managers begin to see results, not in outcomes but in the processes related to product management. After the client has implemented our customized solutions for a period of between 4 and 9 months, we sometimes revisit the teams, and we listen to them speak of their struggles and successes. If needed, TCGen then tailors the solutions based on this feedback. Managers will begin to see teams making customer-focused decisions faster, defining sharply differentiated products in the marketplace, while creating more realizable product plans.
What kind of internal resource commitment should a company plan for when considering a Product Management Consulting engagement?
A Point of Contact
Companies should plan to provide a point of contact who will serve as an internal driver for the engagement. This point person, usually an individual contributor or team manager, serves as the resident expert and as our guide through the organization. He or she helps to organize workshops and functions as a project manager for the engagement. Helping TCGen to improve the organization’s product management capability should be this individual’s top priority.
An Executive Champion
Organizations also typically provide an executive-level champion or sponsor. The champion’s primary task is to help us to communicate with the executive team and secure sufficient time on the team’s calendar. We would sometimes work with a Chief Product Officer, a VP of Marketing or Senior Product Manager.
Access to Data and Schedules
Our assessments often involve detailed post-mortems and project histories. We ask that companies share data regarding project schedules, budgets, product and marketing plans, staffing, etc. We often interview individuals and teams and produce new data in the form of quantitative and qualitative analyses.
What do people say about their experience after a Product Management Consulting Engagement?
Studies have shown that over 70% of all delays are due to inadequate or changing product definitions. Product definition can make the difference between a failed launch and a blockbuster. The new product requirements process remains one of the most challenging aspects of product development – creating a dynamic tension between engineering (features) and marketing (benefits). Defining new products involves deep customer knowledge and the ability to probe beyond what customers say they want, to serve their actual needs. Teasing out new product requirements is an art that includes listening and respecting customers.
Our product management consulting expertise teaches our clients this art, as well as the science of product portfolio management, and the intricacies of early stage product development. Our clients report that the front end has ceased to be a mystery. The result is a more predictable release of the right product.
Our product management consulting clients also report a greater understanding of customers, the ability to transform customer needs into product requirements and a stronger, strategic approach to new product development programs. With our help, one of our medical devices clients was able to develop a platform that served as a major revenue generator for almost two decades.