How is a product leader different from a product owner? This question has come up often in my mentoring sessions and here is an attempt at capturing best practices and product leader responsibilities recommendations.
Product owner is now a well understood role in technology industry. Product leader on the other hand is not very well understood. I liked a recent tweet that said a product owner is the janitor as well as CEO of his product.
Product leader is a seasoned product owner who has graduated to manage a few product owners. In a startup, a product owner and product leader are one and the same. A start-up or a single product person company has a daunting task for that person.
The visual below illustrates key responsibilities of the two roles. It also suggests tool/s that can be used for each.
This is in no way a comprehensive or a prescriptive list. It is a recommendation based on various industry leading best practices and sources. I’d love to hear back from other product people.
Product leader responsibilities
A company that has growing number of products has two alternatives (1) the founder continues to be their product leader with our without a team of product owners or (2) a product leader is appointed to manage the overall product portfolio. Product leader and product owner are essentially the same type of people – they are product people. Both create products that users love. Even though both have same product DNA they operate at different levels of execution. Product portfolio management, analogous to securities portfolio management, is a key difference, and involves a well thought strategy for the constituents of your portfolio (stocks, bonds, options etc.) – which ones to invest in and which ones to divest in, and why. The other responsibilities are common to any other leader however with a strong product flavor: product thought leadership , organizational excellence, and high impact communication.
Product thought leadership:
- Overall product vision: a unified vision for all products. Tools: vision statement (derived from company’s vision statement) and moonshot approach.
- Product strategy: How is the vision accomplished (roadmap)
- Competitive strategy: Market fit, partnership, and threat mitigation. Tool: Porter’s Strategy.
- Customer creation: Customer validation. Tool: Steve Blank customer creation.
- Innovation: Intellectual Property plan.
- Growth plan: Overall KPIs and distribution plan. Tools: partnership plan, Mclure’s KPIs.
- Product priority filter: filter applicable across products.
- Product goals: 24 month, 12 month, and quarterly. Tools: memo, themes.
Create a winning product portfolio:
Product inventory [external]: maintain inventory just like a stock portfolio with a goal of 30% returns . Each product should be mapped to the followign external attributes:
- Map to Market. Tool: Market Map.
- Revenue or users and growth history and projections.
- Market. Tool: Magic Quadrant.
Product inventory [internal]: with internal attributes:
- Maturity (Beta, GA)
- Investment required: end-to-end cost including dev, qa, deployment, marketing.
- Alignment with company’s core
- Alignment with company’s strategy
The above should determine which products are stars, dogs, cash cows, and which ones are questionable? Strategic tool
Organize for excellence:
- Succession plan (leadership contingency)
- Performance (Stack rank, Happiness framework:coaching framework, rewards, morale plan)
- Training (communication, process, technology)
- Clear ownership (RACI)
Communicate for impact:
- Influence (Company product blog)
- Influencer endorsement (Analysts, Bloggers, Marketing)
- peaking engagements
- Bi-annual: Bi-annual
- Quarterly: Product investment audit
- Monthly: Product progress
- Win Loss analysis
- Quarterly: Product update (KPIs)
- Team wide
- Quarterly: Release updates
- Monthly: Sprint update