The best of both worlds

In the “old days”, Project Management and Product Management were two separate and often fully disconnected disciplines. Not anymore.

The trend today, at least in product-led companies, is a merge of the best from both worlds into a new (and extremely challenging) role being what really will be needed and asked for in the future. That is at least my claim, and where I’m placing my bets.

To the best of my knowledge this new role has not yet gotten a name. From hereon I’ll call the role Product Management++.

Product Management++

I’ve decided the name “Product Management++” and not “Project Management++” to emphasize what the role is about, as expressed by Marty Cagan:

We want to create products that our customers love, yet work for the business

Marty Cagan

Product Manager++

I’ll argue that elements 1-3 are covered by Marty Cagan’s definition of a strong Product Manager. My practical experience tells me that I’m also using a lot of the tools in my Project Management Toolbox; at least the tools not having to do with the outdated “command & control” way of thinking.

Below I’ll shortly re-iterate on the four elements of Product Management++

Technological insights

In high-tech product-led organizations, technology is the product. The Product Manager++ needs to have a solid understanding of the technology trends and of how technology is integrated in the products. 

Servant Leadership

The modus operandi of the Product Manager++ is not the classic “command & control” project manager. The Product Manager++ does not have any formal authority over the product team, and can best be described as acting in a Servant Leadership role:

Servant Leadership

Business & Market insights

The Product Manager++ knows that we’re here to serve the (real) customer, thus being highly alert on understanding and validating customer opportunities (pains, needs & desires). NB – too often the notion of an “internal customer” distracts the product teams from where there main focus needs to be: on the real (external) customer.

Testing Business IdeasThe Product Manager++ has a very solid Experimentation Toolbox with tools from e.g., David J. Bland & Alex Osterwalder’s book Testing Business Ideas.

The Product Manager++ will also find great inspiration in the many important books mentioned here, covering e.g., Product Discovery.

Project Management Toolbox

Yes – you’ll find tools and strategies in the experienced project manager’s toolbox, that have lost relevance in the modern organization populated with missionaries. These will typically be tools and strategies founded on the classic “command & control” project manager role.

But – you’ll also find a lot of tools and strategies that remain highly relevant and valuable. If you as a Product Manager++ want to have success as a Servant Leader, then you need (a lot of) the tools and strategies from the Project Management Toolbox. 

NB – I see all the various Agile frameworks as just some of the tools and strategies in the Toolbox. Kanban, Scrum, Scrum@Scale, SAFe … can and must never be a thing or objective in itself. The explosion of Agile Coaches and Agile courses / certifications have unfortunately done exactly that: made the Agile frameworks a thing. Carefully pick the elements relevant for your specific context, and leave the rest. It is not rocket science – it is just a contribution to the Toolbox.

NB NB – the exact same goes for the classic project management models like e.g., PRINCE2©. You will indeed find very useful fragments in PRINCE2, but until now, I’ve not experienced a successful product-led organization having PRINCE2 in the core of its modus operandi. What I have experienced are organizations with a lot of bureaucracy and lack of empowerment perceiving the employees as mercenaries, using PRINCE2.