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Product management is for more than just tech companies

published6 months ago
3 min read

When you read an article on software product management, do you immediately think “that’s a great idea, I’m going to try it out right away!”

Or do you think “that’s great for that type of product/company, but it will never work where I’m at?”

If you frequently have the latter reaction, chances are you’re reading articles that aren’t specific about the context where it applies, and/or you work on a product that is not a B2C or B2B software product.

Most product management articles implicitly assume a B2C or B2B tech company setting. That makes sense because that’s been the primary source of product management growth in the last decade or so.

Except that there are a lot of tech-enabled companies that use software, but don’t sell it, that are adopting product management. Think of companies in industries like insurance, financial services, retail (the physical kind), and healthcare. I’m sure there are others.

These companies started adopting product management when they started digital transformations or product transformations. They wanted to become customer centric. They wanted their technology efforts to show meaningful results. And they realized that simply making their development teams more agile was not sufficient.

Product management helps with that, but you can’t simply lift product management practices from a tech company, drop them into an insurance company with no modification and expect them to work.

The product frameworks, practices, and techniques have to account for the content in which you’re trying to use them.

I started Inside Product to help people inside those types of companies figure out how to make product management work in their situation. It’s also intended to help people who aren’t product managers, but have related skills, move into product management roles in these companies.

I’m looking at you, business analysts.

One of my biggest struggles when writing about product management in contexts other than software products is finding a meaningful name for those types of products.

I think it’s important to be specific about the context that product management occurs in. When many people write about product management, they have a specific context in their head (usually driven by the companies they’ve worked in and the products they’ve worked on) but rarely explicitly say what that context is.

That leaves the reader to their own devices to figure out the context and to determine if there’s enough similarity between their own context and the writers for the experience to be of practical use. More often than not, the reader just discounts the lessons learned without considering whether they may still apply when context is considered.

Because I’ve up to this point been unsuccessful in coming up with a catch-all term, I decided to share some examples of product management in unique contexts that represent the situations I’m focusing on with Inside Product.

Product management in different contexts

Internal Tools at a Technology Company

When Tyze Whorton first joined Onfido, he focused on developing and improving their internal tools that support the manual processing of information and client configuration, user management and authorization.

Tyze shared a few of his key lessons from that experience hoping they will prove useful for other Product Managers responsible for their company’s internal tools.

Store Stock Management at a Retail Chain

Christina Latham, Product Manager for Tesco, manages multiple products that support store stock management. This is a common example of how tech-enabled companies use product management to build and maintain the apps they use to support their business processes.

Before joining Tesco, Christina worked on consumer facing apps and websites. That experience (which is closer to the type of products people think of when they hear product management) provides a nice comparison point to her experience working on the stock management apps. Christia shared her experiences working on internal products for Tesco, and explained how she could use techniques from her previous experience, such as user research and usability testing, to improve how Tesco’s internal apps work.

Digital Products for the Natural History Museum

Product Management is also helpful in not-for-profit settings where your product is important to the mission of the organization, but may not be mission critical.

Pippa Gittings, Product Manager at Natural History Museum in London, UK, has only ever worked in Digital Product Management in the non-profit/charity sector. And she can confirm that what happens in her current role has some key differences from the startup and tech company Product Manager roles that are so often talked about.

Pippa described a couple of differences and similarities between product management at a not for profit and at a tech company.

Content Management System at a Media company

Tori Funkhouser, Product manager, indie publisher, and writer, was a product manager for a content management system (CMS) at CBS Interactive. Tori shared her experiences and highlighted the differences between working on a consumer-facing product at a tech company and a platform at a media company. One of the key differences is how stakeholder and user needs for a platform product—as distinct from user needs for a solutions product—influence the Platform Product Manager’s ability to create value.

Want to see some more examples?

For an idea of the wide range of companies and products that can see benefits from modern product management, here’s a collection of podcast episodes that explored unique examples of product management in unique contexts.

One recurring theme with these examples is that most of the companies were going through digital transformations at the time the podcasts were recorded.

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Kent J. McDonald
Founder | KBP.Media