Adventures in product development: Product leads and setting the sequence

We’re in the middle of a very busy time at work, which is how I like it, but the ebb and flow of the days–the business plans being made, the objectives set, the product visions turned into decks, concept docs and PRDs to be executed, on budget and on time, make me think more about the role of a product development lead and how it’s different from that of a product manager.
I was talking with someone on my team yesterday about work flow on her (big) project and how to provide both direction and autonomy, and she said “The product manager owns the execution of the strategy; the product lead owns the business strategy.”
I smiled and gave qualified agreement, saying “There’s truth there, but the product lead also needs to set the vision and decide how much to do when.”
The reason I put ‘setting the sequence” into the title for this post is because there’s an inseperable link between crafting a product vision to serve a business goal and then deciding how much of it to execute to get the greatest return and customer value for the littlest cost in the shortest time (Are there really projects that don’t have those requirements? Introduce me, please.)
What that means is that a big part of the product lead’s job–in specific, my job–is to take the great ideas and the feature concepts we’ve developed and to decide what exactly has to be in the first release, what’s a phase 2 and what’s–uh–never gonna be built. It’s also my role to work with my colleagues to figure out which of the big five projects we have on the dock has to go out first, which is next and when do we come back to phase two of the first one(often before we’ve gone on to building that next next big thing.)
We have some amazing people on the team who actually figure out how we can put all these projects together (we sometimes call it making lace because it feels so complex and intricate), and we have other people who work on the forecasts, pricing, and overall strategy, but one critical component that drives tons of business impact is this fairly straightforward and yet somewhat complex question of how much of each project to do when. (The problem-solving for that question is definitely one of the most interesting parts of my job and something I relish working on with other in the business unit.) At the end of the day, I own this sequencing–both the business side rationales for driving impact and the operational process for getting things done well, on budget and on time.
We’re at point, right now, where the work we’re focused on involves both planning and execution, and in the next 2 weeks I’ll be diving deep into the sequencing pool –along with our senior project lead–as we create estimates of work based on the PRDs and work with the team to translate features both into user impact and into resources required. This is truly one of the parts of my job I relish the most–seeing all the planning and analysis and vision we have turn into well-thought out, carefully focused execution.

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  1. hunter says:

    Product managers wear three hats (or at least this is how i see the world and encourage the PMs who work with me to do the same):
    > Project manager (keep the train running)
    > Product manager (define the product)
    > CEO (be responsible for the holistic success of your business)
    The ratio of time you spend in each bucket is related to product phase and your experience. Junior PMs are probably 40/55/5, while i find that product leads become 5/15/80.
    So i definitely don’t believe there’s any product manager who isn’t responsible for product strategy, even at the lowest levels of the organization.

  2. susan mernit says:

    Hunter–Good comments and I agree–a good PM owns both the business strategy and the product vision, as well as the execution oversight–didn’t mean to imply PMs just executed–creativity within constraints is such a valuable skill…as is being innovative, not always me-too.

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