When to engage a senior product manager
During my 10 years long career as a product professional, I worked with diverse startups in different stages of development and in different roles.
The help I offered was never the same.
Some founders needed help setting concrete goals and milestones, some defining exactly what success looks like and what they needed to measure to track the success, and some needed help defining user requirements.
However, one thing was the same, every time.
Founders who left these important tasks to chance, or did them without the appropriate due diligence, found themselves in costly situations, sometimes resulting in completely failing to build and launch their product.
When it comes to building a successful product, two core aspects are essential: product vision and product management. Each of these aspects are crucial to the success of a product, and without them, it can be challenging to bring a product to market.
A product vision is an overarching idea of what the product should be and what problem it should solve. It serves as a roadmap for all stakeholders, helping to guide their decisions.
A product vision is created by a product team and should include key elements such as goals, objectives, target audience, and value proposition.
Product management is the process of overseeing the entire life cycle of a product from conception to launch and beyond. It involves coordinating the various teams involved in the development and maintenance of a product, as well as taking responsibility for its success or failure.
A product manager oversees logistics, team communication, and other critical components necessary for the successful development and marketing of the product.
Without product vision, there is no product. Without product management, it becomes impossible to bring that vision to life.
Product managers are the bridge between these two concepts. They help establish proper practices in the product development process.
The long-term success of a product relies on having those product-related practices in an organization early on.
This is precisely why it is crucial to hire the first product person as soon as possible, even for early-stage startups. Knowing when to engage a product manager is key to achieving product success.
So, when is the right time?
The time to hire a product manager is when the business needs
- To grow and scale quickly
- To manage complex projects with multiple stakeholders across departments
- Strategic direction to ensure successful outcomes
- New product development
- Product improvement
Rapid Growth and Scale
Rapid growth can emerge in different stages of startup development. As a company experiences team growth or needs to add new departments, it can become increasingly difficult for the CEO or CTO to manage all aspects of product development.
The more people involved in the process, the more coordination and communication are required.
This can be challenging, especially when different teams have different priorities and objectives.
That is where a product manager can make a significant impact.
Product managers are mags of cross-team communication. They help ensure everyone is aligned and working towards a common vision, which is critical in these situations. They also help to establish processes and procedures that will allow for better communication and collaboration between teams.
Make Complex Product Management More Efficient
Product development is a complex, cumbersome process.
Some symptoms of poor product development management include
- Frequent project delays
- Missed deadlines
- Lack of clear communication between teams involved
- Poor product quality
- Negative customer feedback
- Difficulty prioritizing product features
- Inability to adapt to changing market trends or customer needs
- Difficulty in tracking progress
- Challenges in measuring the success of product development initiatives
Implementing proper processes around product development, user research, and product management can help businesses create a framework for successful product outcomes.
By doing so, product managers can also minimize the risk of creating products that don't align with customer needs or that lack a clear direction.
This is why the first hires for product roles should be more experienced and senior folks. Even for startups, the sooner a startup engages the first experienced product person, the better.
New Round of Funding
Another scenario needing a product manager is when a company secures a new round of funding. This is a critical time for growth and expansion.
By this stage, the responsibilities of the CEO or CTO, who is usually the sole product owner, can triple, leaving little time to focus on product development.
A new round of funding allows the company to move away from bootstrapping and transfer the responsibility of product ownership to someone else.
This is where a product manager can be a valuable addition to the team. A product manager brings a unique skill set and perspective to the table, allowing founders or CEOs to take on the responsibility of driving the product vision forward.
They can work closely with the executive team to ensure that product goals are aligned with business objectives and that the product development process is efficient and effective.
Additionally, a product manager can take on the day-to-day responsibilities of managing the product development process, freeing up the CEO or CTO to focus on other critical aspects of the business.
New Product Development
Another common situation in need of a product manager is when a company is planning to develop a new product.
This is where a product manager becomes essential to help you mitigate risks and identify potential issues early on in the development process, saving the company time and resources in the long run.
A product manager can
- Navigate through the uncertainties of new product development
- Define the product vision
- Identify the target market
- Create a roadmap for the product's development.
Important note for startups
In my experience, startups usually don’t pay enough attention to produce management due to their limited resources and knowledge.
But, as a startup launching your first product with limited team capacity, your first team structure is highly important. You need at least a couple of team members who are experienced, not necessarily in the startup process, but with product management or even just business operations.
Product improvement is the process of making meaningful product changes that result in new customers or increased benefits realized by existing customers.
This is the time when founders need to think about their team structure in order to avoid struggling with the existing product to stay on the market.
The struggle indicates that proper product improvement is missing from the process.
That is the very situation when you need to engage a senior product manager to bring a customer-focused perspective by analyzing market trends, customer feedback, and competitors' offerings to identify areas for improvement.
There are no things that are ultimately true for startups and companies trying to place a product on a market, but having a proper product development process in place is necessary for successful product launch and iteration.