Product Managers Play Tug-of-War

tug of war

63% of product managers report to marketing and 24% report to development. 22% of requirements managers report to marketing with 55% in the development organization. These reporting structures can over-emphasize the needs of new users and super-users, while shortchanging the needs of the majority of users. Product managers will constantly be playing tug-of-war to get time to do the right thing.

The Softletter Survey

Softletter executed a survey earlier this year, which found that almost two thirds of product managers report to marketing, and a majority of requirements managers report to development. Detailed survey results are available by Subscription.


The Silicon Valley Product Group recently published an article about this very issue. They point out significant problems with both reporting structures. Hat tip to Nils for finding this one. Nilsnet is on our blogroll and makes good reading – you should check it out.

Product management in the marketing group:

Further, what usually happens is that the product marketing role and the product management role get combined. These roles and the skills required so different that what usually ends up happening is that one or the other (or both) gets poorly executed.

Product management in the development group:

Moreover, it’s easy for the product management team to be consumed in the details and pressures of producing the detailed specs rather than looking at the market opportunity and charting a winning product strategy and roadmap.

Alan Cooper’s Take

In The Inmates Are Running The Asylum, Cooper points out that marketing people tend to over-emphasize the needs of new users. Their interactions are primarily with people who we want to buy the software. As such, they spend most of their time understanding the needs of people who haven’t used the software, or who have just started using the software.

Developers, or as Cooper calls them, homo-logicus, are a special breed of people who are much more capable of dealing with complexity than average users. They appreciate good algorithms, customizability, and full-featuredness. They don’t run into the problems that most people have when dealing with software that has too many features.

Johanna Rothman asked the question in April, “Do engineers use their own software?” Her point was simply that if engineers have to “eat their own dog food” they will introduce fewer bugs. There are definitely benefits to this mindset. However, the engineers should not be specifying the features for the products (unless the products are to be used only by other engineers).

Competent Users

Our priorities as product managers should focus on competent users. Most people develop a level of competence quickly and most people stop learning when there is no additional benefit to learning more. Therefore most people don’t become experts. With a lion’s share of our users being competent, we need to make sure we emphasize them in our requirements and design decisions.

Organizational Bias

As SVPG points out, product managers will tend to evolve into the activities most valued in their organizations. Combine this with Cooper’s take on the needs of the everyman, and we end up having to devote energy to overcoming organizational bias in order to prioritize the needs of the majority of users.


Product Management should be represented in its own organization. This allows a focus on the right users, and will likely make it easier to avoid tactical tangents that take away time from strategic decision making.

4 thoughts on “Product Managers Play Tug-of-War

  1. Scott, this is a very useful piece of writing. For best results, product managers are to be represented in their own Organization.

    I have an specific query in this context. We know that the sales group in a Company is represented in its own organization, with the Sales head reporting to CEO. What is the best practice w.r.t. Product management and Marketing? Should they be in different organization (like sales), with respective heads reporting to CEO? Or, should they just be in separate organization in the product domain (and not in the Company), reporting to Product/BU head? Which is more effective?

  2. Bikram,

    Thanks for reading and commenting!

    Best practice is a tough phrase to use when it comes to organizational design. Ultimately, the people running the marketing and product management groups (or group) will have more influence on the success of the company’s products than anything else. A single organization with a VP who can manage two distinct sets of objectives (marketing vs. product management) will be just as effective as two separate groups.

    There is a risk in rolling product management into marketing, that the product manager will become a sales-support role, which is very tactical. For example, product managers shouldn’t be focusing on giving demos – they should be consumers of market research, to determine the proper features to include in the product.

    A collaboration between sales and product management should determine which features to stress in a particular demo. But the demo is a presales function, not product management. Presellers are often customer-savvy technologists reporting into (or cycling through) the engineering department.

    If I were designing an org, I would absolutely have product management and marketing as separate departments with unique objectives. If I did not have a large enough staff to have two VPs or directors, I would have one person with dual titles, like VP of product marketing / acting VP of product management. This is how I would help to maintain a focus at the top of the org. If at all possible, I would avoid having any of the people who actually “do stuff” from doing both marketing and product management work. Both jobs are so large that doing both would be impractical.

    Hope that helps,

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