Should you be judged on the success of your product?

Well, the easy answer would be yes, however, I think back to my early years in product management and think is it really that easy?

Twenty years ago as a product manager in a large Telecoms operator I found myself in what I thought was the enviable position of launching an exciting new product. There were already some competitors in the market, but the product was new to the company and the launch challenges many. The product was a success and it was generally accepted that I’d done a good job. However, it wasn’t a big market. Relative to the competition, we’d gained market share, but total revenues were never going to be huge.

I worked next to a fellow product manager who, I have to say, I didn’t rate too highly. However, he worked on one of the fastest-growing products in the market. Even though they were losing ground to the competition, the revenues were so big that he got lots of airtime and was seen personally as very successful.

This felt very unfair… and I resolved (and failed) to only work on big boring ‘cash cow’ products in the future.

Do you put your best product managers on the most difficult products or those that are making the most money?

Do you reward product managers that make the biggest turnaround to an existing situation or those that make the biggest impact on the bottom line?

Can you move product managers around from product to product or does it take too much time for them to build up domain expertise about their product area, the technology, their customers and suppliers?

These are some of the challenges that anyone running a team of product managers must wrestle with.

Ian Lunn
Director, Product Focus


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Your article reminded me of a story:

I once worked with a chap who managed an online service, which charged by amount of data stored. The service was popular and growing its revenues, however the P&L model assumed that data was stored compressed, when in fact the reverse was true. Thus, the more popular the service became, the more it lost money on running costs…

One slightly more serious observation on your article is that a product manager who thinks they’ve got an easy ride because their product is a cash cow is probably missing the point. While failing or unpopular products have a more obvious set of problems to tackle, successful ones have a different set of arguably trickier problems:

– How do I keep my product relevant in a market of changing needs and evolving competitors?
– How do I maintain customer satisfaction with the product?
– How do I (and should I) revitalise or extend the product to generate incremental revenue?
– When does it make most sense to phase out this product?
– What product do I create to replace this one?


More mature products have an established customer base, proven messaging, established pricing (value), sales momentum (And yes more focus from senior management if significant revenue is coming from them) and a focus on more “niche” features bringing a heavier technical element to the PM job. As such it is harder to mess these up as the product manager because there are so many other hands on the tiller indirectly. More junior PMs also tend to have the technical orientation that means they find the job more interesting. I have placed the more junior PMs in my team on the flagship products on a couple of occasions especially if they have the knowledge of the business overall through transferring into PM from another department. This early success also gives these PMs the confidence in their role and bags of experience on exposure to the senior management team. As the PM leader of course, you need to keep a close eye on these PMs to address the points raised by Jock and ensure that you do have hard working PMs and not PM passengers.

I have often found that more experienced PMS would much rather take on new and more challenging products to allow them to exercise a broader set of skills in parallel to create an effective product strategy and frankly I would too. I guess that’s why I am now in a startup…

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