Do we really need PMs?

Giff Constable product management

I gave a talk on roadmapping recently to a large group of product managers, and one asked the question: “Do companies really need product managers or is it just a facilitation role between the different other roles that can go away if they get better at collaboration?”

It’s an understandable question, and one I’ve heard for years. Indeed, modern product management is so multi-disciplinary, it overlaps with elements of design, engineering, data/business/finance analysis, and marketing.

My belief is that product management generally began as a facilitation and project management job, but has filled out into a critical role by sheer necessity. This is particularly because the world has realized the big question is usually not “can we build this?” but “should we build this?”

The business world has gotten so complex and fast-paced that someone needs to be actively synthesizing across all the disciplines. This allows the specialists to be specialists while enabling the team and the company to make efficient, effective, strategic decisions.

Remove that person synthesizing data across all the different elements of “product/business/customer/market” and you simply won’t see the same level of efficient, effective, strategic decision making.

That is, of course, as long as the PM is good at that job. It’s an important thing to interview for — can they show that they’ve had to synthesize large and complex data from many sources, in many shapes, in order to make, facilitate, sell, and implement great decisions.

There are successful teams that can get away with not having a PM, but that almost always just means that someone is wearing the hat without the title.

Image: by Ross Sneddon