It is difficult for Product Managers to think business


Why do founder CEOs with strong product management skills have difficulties when their companies need scaling? Why are product managers often perceived as the guys who don’t understand “business”? Why is is often so frustrating to manage stakeholders if you are a Product Manager?

I have asked myself this type of questions pretty often. Actually, at times I felt so far away from business that I was proud of being an idealistic advocate of our users. I found excitement in challenging the business colleagues by presuming I had the better (because user related) arguments in discussions. And yes, it is true that there are many articles about this topic. One of my employees pretty often asked me to be less “ideologic” and my strategy papers etc. were often perceived as kind of “bible”. Personally I believe this has been and still is a defensive move of the function product. Let´s try to understand the different historical phases of product management:


Product was simply one of the four p´s in the marketing mix. Product Managers got a list of features they had to build and to release. That´s it.


Marketing became more and more a philosophy for companies to be truly consumer centric. It is the moment where marketing started to ask for seats at the executive table.


Latest with the arrival of digital, products became too complex to be built based on top down specification. The introduction of agile methodologies has changed they way R&D needs to be led.


With all the agile teams led by Product Managers a new level of organizational challenge arrived: how to make sure all teams are working towards the same goal? Traditional general managers often fail to manage R&D because they are not seasoned Product Managers. They need “help” in steering those teams. The only way to inspire those teams is to have a clear product vision instead of asking for simple features to be built. There is translation needed. Otherwise there will be no real link between general management and R&D and the company will not be successful.

So, if you experience Product Managers not embracing your corporate strategy, this might be due to the fact that she/he is not willing and/or able to challenge it. It might be a comfort zone related issue. On the other hand side, it is always hard to leave the area of your own functional expertise and to broaden your view. It is like a nail that has been driven into a plank and then needs to expand in order to make a real hole…



A big question remains open: how to broaden your view as a Product Manager? I have chosen to do a MBA for this. But if you have colleagues with a solid consulting background and openness towards design thinking this might also be very valuable.

Why good product management helps sustainability

During a lunch with Erik we have had a discussion about sustainability. This inspired me to write this post. Good product management means focusing on serving user needs best with special focus on creating tangible benefits. Starting with a problem that is worthwhile solving from the user´s point of view, the emphasis is to iteratively come up with solutions that get users excited. There is no waffling, but pure product in the hands of potential and hopefully future consumers.

Consequent design thinking ensures that no “waste” is being produced. This also avoids that products are being built which serve only one purpose: maximizing the profit of the building company – not the one of its customers.

Real sustainability emerges if the ingredients viability, desirability and feasibility come together. A good product manager focuses on all three and is therefore compliant with sustainability standards.

So, dear product managers: now you have another very strong argument in discussions about how important design thinking is. Think long term, help to improve sustainability!

It is time to clean up the mess between CMO and CDO


Yesterday I read an article about the CMO transitioning to a CDO by Ray. It is only one in a series of articles about this topic. In my opinion this is not showing the complete story.

In simple words: many people believe that digital has created the need to make (analog) CMOs transition to (digital) CDOs. As running (digital) promotions has a strong technology impact, the CIO is also put into the play as she/he is the only one to really understand big data & co.

This jumps too short. Let´s take a step back and clarify the different disciplines involved. In “old” times, it was marketing only. They defined the products to be built, they ran the promotions and built the brand. Marketing was perceived as an overarching philosophy about understanding and serving customer needs. R&D was the department to build products based on marketing requirements. “Our market research has shown that customers want their washing powder come as little red balls, so you guys build our washing powder as little red balls.”

This has changed due to the digital push. The complexity of products has exploded. Building the right product solutions has become an iterative and design resp. technology driven process. Now a quote like the one above would look like this: “In intense individual customer interviews we have found that we able to build the big green boxes that customers love to use as their washing powder.”

AfterDigitalPushAt the same time branding is still playing a major role as it deals with the intangible assets of products (that are by definition neither digital nor analog). There is a need for all three areas. Now you could discuss who should “own” the customer. Or one could agree on applying an overarching philosophy (all have the customer in mind with everything they do).

So, where does the CDO come in? Is this the person to ensure that a “digital” philosophy is being applied? This would require to address ALL functions. Today´s discussions around CDOs seem to limit its role to tactical marketing (aka selling products digitally).  In my opinion, this jumps far too short and does harm to the standing of a CDO in a company.

So, either the CDOs are up to the real challenge or they leave the ground to product managers, marketers and brand specialists.

By Jörg Malang

How does a MBA help Product Managers not to be roadmap monkeys?

Achieving to build great products means extensive stakeholder management on the one hand. On the other hand, the Product Manager needs to create an environment where she/he can build those products. This environment needs to be based on clear strategic choices of the company.

I am sure many of you know this graph (taken from IDEO).


Especially in the area of viability there is immediately the  ”business question” coming up. How will the company make money out of your product? What is your expected growth? A Product Manager is in the situation where she/he has to not only do design thinking but also to discuss company strategy.

As product management involves nearly all functions in a company more or less directly, you could consider the role of a Product Manager as a general management role. Sure, you can argue that there is an overlap with the CEO and the senior management respectively.

But: don’t forget that the Product Manager is the one who should be able to do the design thinking (who else?). Design thinking is the necessary but not sufficient skill of a Product Manager. She/he needs to be able to defend strategic positions from a general management point of view as well (on executive level).

We all know what happens if this is not the case: the Product Manager becomes what I would call a “roadmap monkey”. What could prepare one better for this challenge than a MBA? It´s “business ambition” combined with “design thinking” what makes a Product Manager deliver unique value to the company…

By Jörg Malang

Translating between executive and product speak

Working in a senior role as Product Manager is a continuous translation exercise between functional experts. “Show me the revenue” was a quote of one of our @HECParis professors during the last couple of days. And he made jokes about the reactions of the entrepreneurs being asked this unpleasant question.

The big question is: why does it make Product Managers feel uncomfortable? Is it because you run out of explanations? Is it because it is frustrating to leave one´s visionary level and having to go back to much more “trivial” discussions? Is it the mere incompetency of the Design Thinker?

Be it as it is: there is the need to bridge that gap. Companies need senior people who are willing to try hard to make the translation between (absolutely legitimate) business questions and (absolutely critical for survival) radical design thinking.

If this translation doesn’t happen on the right level, two things might happen. Either the Product Manager chases feature after feature without achieving break through and without taking the company to the next (revenue) level or the company dies in beauty because everyone there is living in a dream world.

The ideal situation would be someone in the middle between both worlds having the big picture and being able to translate. That is why we should see many more careers transitioning from product to general management and vice versa. I am asking myself why this is still so seldom. Has it to do with the reputation of product management? Or is it a simple misunderstanding what Product Managers are supposed to do?

By Jörg Malang

Marketing can´t manage every product

Today I have read this article: “The appointment of a chief digital officer is a bad idea“. It has been published on Marketing Week. Obviously it collects arguments for the fact that a chief digital officer is something the world doesn’t really need. The author @AshleyFriedlein ends with pretty polemically comparing this discussion to a discussion around the need of a “chief electricity officer” back in 1900.

Actually, this came at the moment where I anyway wanted to blog about a topic that is close to the same issue. What is the role of marketing? How should the interface between product management and marketing be defined?

During my last module @HECParis we also learnt about marketing. For many people marketing is simply the operational part (remember the four p´s: product, price, promotion & placement?). We got presented the strategic view on marketing. Marketing as a philosophy. “Marketing is too important to be left with the marketing department.” (David Packard). The idea of completely focusing all employees of a company on their customers. This is pretty close to Ashley´s article. Ashely suggests that hiring a chief digital officer might be a bad idea because all departments need to think “digital” anyway. With the same logic one could argue that it wouldn´t make sense to hire a chief marketing officer. Everyone in a company needs to think marketing anyway.

While I understand this argument, there is an insight I would like to share with my readers: products are becoming increasingly digital and therefore technology driven. Technology can address user needs in a way that has not been seen before. @HECParis we have been lectured about the so called “R&D push” that marketing should also incorporate in its thinking. One could say “today´s solutions to user needs have become too complex to be left to marketing people“.

At the end of the day, this whole discussion around C-Level titles might be misleading. Let´s be really open to new ways of managing companies but let´s not ignore the fact that digital changes business much more fundamentally than electricy might have ever done.

By Jörg Malang