How is the role of Product Management changing within organisations?

Pubished 10th October 2019

An Interview with Marc Massar…

In this interview, I sat down with Marc Massar (Chief Product Officer at Nets Group, former SVP, Head of Global Product Strategy, Innovation, Experience and Standards at Worldpay, Ex-Executive Director, Head of Product Strategy & Management at JP Morgan) to discuss how the role of Product Management is changing within an organisation, exploring how companies need to understand the craft of Product Management, and how companies must learn to bring technology and customers closer together.

1.) What exactly is a Product led organisation?

    MM: It’s a funny term “Product led organisation; it’s similar to customer-led or business-led. For me, the question is are you a Product company as opposed to Product led? You have to be customer led, so the question should be really – are you customer value led? You can’t build good products if you don’t listen to your customers and so to be product led is to bring resources of the company together, and say ‘this is how we’re going to create value for customers’, listening to what they have to say, and rally around those things and push that out from there. The flip side of that though is looking at companies that tell their customers what they want, as it’s difficult to poll consumers and then ask – what do you want? You’d end up with cars with 8 doors, and strange products in the market – which is why I think that you need a Product Manager to shape the voice of the customer.

    In consumer businesses, and ‘product-led’ businesses it’s up to that Product Leader to kind of shape the vision and also have an eye out for what the customer wants and the customers is saying to you.

    2.) How has the rise of a Chief Product Officer Role vs Chief Technology Officer role affected organisations?

      MM: I always find these titles quite interesting, I remember the big title in the market always used to be ‘architect’ with a capital A, or even ‘fellow’. It seems these days there seems to be a chief title for most roles now, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing at all. I think the CPO title is becoming increasingly important. The CTO role has been a common title over the past decade, and the CPO title less so. You used to have less attention on the craft of building products, but I think people are realising if you want to deliver faster and cheaper, at higher quality you needed a process for that. There’s no right way of doing that as such, but there are wrong ways. There’s a real craft to building products.

      That thinking has given rise to new roles, where stronger emphasis is given to the process, and someone needs to lead the act of creation – which is where your demand for a CPO is. If you look at a CTO now it demands perhaps more business awareness, and greater commercial acumen. The CPO now needs to ask, what value is driven from the tech teams? The roles need to work together, or start to converge.

      If the CTO role continues to be development, tech-inwards focussed management well frankly, that’s the last generations CTO role. It’s now morphing into a more of a CPO role, and the discipline isn’t tech on one side and commercial on the other, it’s actually bringing those together – the discipline and the function is product development and everybody has to be brought together.

      3.) Is there a particular industry leading the way?

        MM: Saying one industry is leading the way is difficult, you do see some really interesting concentrations geographically though, where you find people building great products, Silicon Valley being a classic example of this – driven originally from the US defence industry. When you have a concentration as such, or a model that says ‘we’ve always done it this way’, that’s when people decide they’re going to spin off and start something new. If you look at the evolution of Jack Dorsey and his journey with Square, he didn’t start with Square, he started with Twitter – and they of course, don’t industry-wise have much to do with one another – but from a business perspective, the same ethos around excellence in software and product development meant both companies did well.

        What’s also interesting is every industry has disruptors, the recent classic example being FinTech – if you look at Stripe, Square, iZettle, Monzo there are so many great names to list and they’re really challenging the more established players, and that spurs a new type of thinking in the old players, who are now all thinking ‘how can we bring technology, and the customer closer together?’

        4.) What does a great Product team look like to you?

          MM: Oh boy; lots of stuff. I could say it’s pushing back and not taking no for an answer, having strong collaboration, or having a great design function, but in truth many attributes make a great product team. You’ve got to look at the team having several shared attributes – attention to detail, prioritisation (and that’s a really important one), story-telling and driving the message so that everybody understands and is really clear on the objective.

          Any good product manager steals great ideas from other people in the product space and I’ve worked with many great product people over the years to borrow ideas from, and one thing that really great product teams have is a common understanding of the value delivered to the customer. It’s really important that each team can articulate their value delivered to customers, and have everybody in the team articulate that, and by doing so you’ll get a really magical team. Alignment, clarity and drive are always the things that make a great product team.

          5.) How has the role of Product Management changed in the past decade?

            MM: This is really interesting for me, and I mainly speak for financial services here, but if you look at say Product Management 10 years ago in financial services, and that’s if you had product management 10 years ago in your company, that product manager probably had more of a generic business title and it was some sort of commercial role – maybe it sat between business development, or project management, or even sales. A decade ago it’d also be hard to find someone that had a degree or to find someone that had actually studied product management – so the people that were responsible for driving the vision of the product and leading product development were never really trained in how to do that stuff, they didn’t go to school and do software development, and didn’t really have backgrounds in software development, and certainly didn’t start their career in Product Management (does anyone?).

            I think over the last 5 years let’s say in financial services, things are really starting to shift because of disruption, focused maybe by the higher profile consumer tech companies, tech media, maybe even big investors – but the Product Manager has really become an everyday role now. It’s a different environment now, and yes you still have experts in certain fields, but overall there’s more of a craft on the development process. Product is a discipline, and the influence is coming from the outside. It’s different from the way we used to do things, and it’s a change for the better. I came from a tech background, and I’m comfortable with modern ways of working but we all need to really ask now – what’s next? The agile manifesto was written in 2001; that’s nearly 20 years ago. I think now people are coming out of university and moving to tech-driven fields or product straight away, that influence in the mainstream has led to a really interesting mix of new ideas and the old way of doing things.

            6.) What does the future hold for Product Managers?

              MM: This is a really interesting one, and something I’ve been talking a lot about recently – interestingly enough a lot with my engineering teams. I think the future holds bringing them to the forefront of a business and working with different parts of the business. If you look at all the new companies emerging, they’re working more closely with Product now than ever – focused on development and delivery, and I think the future of Product Management could be tightly coupled with a more radical shift in code development. We started to push product teams to begin integrating with the whole build lifecycle where testable requirements were written right there in the code. I think we’re going to see more and more that product managers will need to act as that bridge between customer value and the actual code that needs to be written, and that means a different set of skills for product managers to learn and develop. I see a lot of growth for soft skills and for more technical skills in the future.