Are you in a dog fight with the other product managers?

Internal competition between product managers

I bet you thought that other companies were your main source of competition. Or perhaps other products in your business that overlap with yours.

But is it the other product managers at your company that are your biggest threat?

Are you really in a dog fight with them?

In some large companies, I’ve seen it’s a dog-eat-dog world and you’ve got to fight your corner.

You’re scrapping for attention from the Sales team. Scrabbling around for Development resources. Desperate to secure senior-level support. The competition is your fellow product managers who are trying to do the same. Objectivity flies out the window as each product manager claims that their product will be most successful and vies for ‘airtime’.

You can’t blame the product managers. Their behavior is a result of how things are structured and the prevailing culture. It pits product managers against one another. It rewards those that are good at selling themselves and their products rather than those that give an honest view of their product to the business. This behavior broadly derives from Conway’s Law that says that things tend to be designed in a way that reflects the structure of the organization.

There’s a great blog entry from product management guru Rich Mironov — Conway’s Law for Product Organizations that is definitely worth a read. He says that how we group people and delineate teams has a real impact on the products we produce and how we behave. There is no perfect solution, every organizational structure has shortcomings. Good managers have to anticipate and mitigate the problems.

So if you’re leading a team of product managers how can you avoid dog-eat-dog behavior?

Some ideas. Build team spirit, for example, have regular team meetings, get product managers to share best practice, attend a training course together. Use a common financial model for products with product managers reviewing each others’ forecasts for reasonability and consistency. Have shared prioritization meetings so everyone understands why decisions are made. Encourage product managers to give a balanced objective view of their products to help the company make good decisions.

But perhaps ‘healthy competition’ between product managers and survival of the fittest is an equally valid strategy.

What do you think?

Ian Lunn
Director, Product Focus

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