Make your product part of a system

If you want to be a bad product manager, just focus on your product on its own. Don’t worry about how it works with other products. You’re not responsible for those products, you’re responsible for your own. Why should you care about other products that your company produces? Your product needs to be good enough that it stands on its own. Plus, any issues with how your product works as part of a system with other products is really an issue for those other product managers to figure out, not you, since the problems are probably with their products.

If you want to be a good product manager, think of your product as part of a system. The old adage that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts is definitely true here. While you may view products as separate and structure your organization appropriately, customers may view them all as part of one system from one company and expect added benefits and efficiencies when using them together.

Peter Merholz provides two good examples. First, the Apple music universe — iPod, iTunes music management, iTunes store. Though there may be different product managers in charge of each of those, customers expect them to work together seamlessly. Second, Flickr, whose success is due to “how it fits within an existing digital photo ecosystem, and adds value by helping coordinate these disparate elements of the ecosystem.”

Peter’s colleague Brandon Schauer provides another example of an effective system — the Target pill bottle. In this case, it’s not part of a system like how the iPod and iTunes are, but part of a system with other IT systems and pharmaceutical systems. All of those need to be working in harmony to provide the added value that the consumer receives.

In the typical “silo” organization, it’s very easy to treat your product as its own standalone entity. In fact, it’s often tacitly encouraged, as product managers and others are provided incentives on the performance of their product or area, and not shared goals across products or systems. Success in product management is in being able to break through those siloes and create a portfolio of products that can not only work well on their own but provides extra value when used together.

This is a challenge, though, as most organizations are not thinking this way. In a recent article I co-wrote on Transitioning from User Experience to Product Management, John Zapolsky had some great comments about how product management can learn from channel management and service management, which are areas within some organizations that focus on the convergence of all the various products. Banking and retail are two areas from which technical product management could learn.

Ultimately, product managers need to be thinking about their products as part of a system for one main reason — customers are thinking about their products as part of a system. The good market-focused product manager will be able to break through organizational hurdles and technical obstacles to ensure that their product not only works effectively as part of the system but leverages the value of the system for additional benefit to the customer.