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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Dear Ian,
Yes, I can confirm that in companies there is an internal competition for project’s resources. in fact, it’s quite natural because we always want to do more than is technically possible within a given timeframe and or we are overspending our annual ICT budget. So, we need to make choices. If a company does not have well organised procedure for reviewing project portfolios and prioritisation, chances are that the project manager with the loudest mouth can push his project at the cost of others.

Ultimately, in the company there will always be some politics going on and wheeling & dealing in hallways. Nevertheless, if there is a well defined process in place for prioritisation those influences are less strong.

At my former employer within the Mobile devision I’ve witnessed what is called the Rolling Forecast. It is a list of prioritised projects which is updated every quarter. The RF is discussed in a meeting headed by the manager of Portfolio MGT. All commercial stakeholders have a chair in this meeting. How the RF works. A project need to be added to the RF otherwise it will have no status and will never start. To get on the RF the new project will be scored against a number of criteria some of them financial such as revenues and NPV. The better the score the higher the project is in ranking on the RF list. Then there are 2 horizontal bars in the list. If the project is below the lower bar it will not start because the scores are too weak. If the project is between the 2 bars it’s viable but currently it cannot be funded. If the project is above the upper bar then not only does it score high it is also within the zone for which there are resources and budget. The RF meeting will discuss the upper section regarding the planning of the projects, their sequence and interdependacies. As time passes new insights may arise and adjustments to priotities may be done. Further, the projects which are just below the upper bay are often subject of heated discussions because these project are often also must haves but unfortunately the resources and or funding is simply lacking for these. Such is the game of the RF process.

kind regards,
Mark Koetluk

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