Product Company Org Structure. A Wild Aspiration.


Gopal Shenoy,  product management leader and a famous blogger, made a blog post on how a product manager is not the CEO of their product, and one of the main points of contention was that, unlike a CEO, a product manager has no authority, and hence product managers are encouraged to work in the lines of influencing cross functional teams and position themselves as the Chief Influential Officers (CIO) of their product.

Whilst I agree 100% with Gopal Shenoy’s view of product managers as CIOs, I’d like to make a proposal on how to achieve the CEO tag which will make us better product managers with higher levels of responsibilities.

Definition of a Product Manager

Here’s a good definition of a ‘product manager’ that I bumped into recently.

Product Manager - good definition

Source: Anonymous

One of the key aspects in this definition is the product manager’s responsibility and ownership over the product deliverable — we all agree we have that responsibility.

The Reality

Based on my experience, I feel the ‘responsibility & ownership over the product deliverable‘ is extremely challenging to exercise with the org structure of today’s tech companies. Engineering management has too much control over their engineers, especially around working on a defect vs. a subtle refinement based on product manager or dog-food feedback — this is because they think they own the delivery of the software features. Just too much authority based thinking. Engineering’s focus is more towards securing their position, name, etc. rather than shipping a great product that has market/customer acceptance. The hands-on engineers tend to listen to their bosses more than the product manager because they have to look good to their bosses for around performance assessments.

No matter how much there is excitement about flat/matrix organizational structure, layers get developed within engineering teams over a period of time for various reasons such as career advancement, retention strategy, etc.

Proposed Org Structure

As an aspiration, I’d like to propose an org structure for product companies, with the intention of ensuring fairness to product managers in fulfilling their responsibilities.

Product Manager

  • Reports into VP/Head of Product Management
  • One or more projects assigned to each product manager
  • Engineers assigned to the project will officially report into the product manager
  • Works with the assigned designer, architect, and engineers in delivering increased customer value, eventually leading to exceptional product-market fit
  • At the end of the project, or on a periodic basis (e.g. quarterly), provides feedback to head of engineering on the performance of engineers
  • Team reporting into product manager for each project

    • Designer
    • Architect
    • Developers
    • Testers
    • Scrum Master
    • Analyst

Engineer

  • Reports into assigned project’s product manager
  • Reports into Director/VP/Head of Engineering on a dotted line
  • Collaborates more with product-manager vs. his/her boss
  • Works with Architects to groom their technical skills
  • Brings innovative problem solving ideas to the table

Director/VP/Head of Engineering

  • Works with VP/Head of Product Management in understanding project priorities
  • Align with rest of the leadership on resource assignments across projects
  • Use feedback from product managers to assess performance and rewards for engineers

Benefits

  • True matrix org, with no middle management or authoritative layers
  • Focused on the products’ success vs. team glory
  • Engineers will focus their efforts in building great products & experiences, and not in pleasing their bosses
  • Engineers need not be in a dilemma about who to listen to — their line manager or product manager

Cheers!

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About Mohamed-Aneez
Passionate about Product Management

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