Where should Product Management live?

In my experience, this is one of those things that is bound to never be resolved. Not in the industry and not even within a single company. However, it makes great fodder for theoretical management discussions and reorgs.

Frankly, in a small organization I don’t think that the reporting structure matters nearly as much as the people involved. If you’ve got a good PM (or two) in a small organization, they will get the respect and attention from the people who need to give it.

However, in bigger companies, I believe that where PM is placed has a tremendous impact on the scope of the role and ultimate effectiveness. Here are a few of the pros and cons of the common organizational ideas:

Reporting to VP of Engineering

This is probably the most common scenario of them all. However, despite that commonality it has some structural flaws.

Pros:

  • Closely coupled with the dev teams to get good feedback, scoping estimates etc.
  • More likely to participate more granularly with the project while underway because you’ll be on the same teams.

Cons:

  • No check and balance in the system.
  • When PM reports to engineering, it can become very difficult to champion something that perhaps the market, customers, etc. need that isn’t thought necessary by the developers.
  • PM loses the ‘stick’ to prod performance to plan etc.

When PM reports to engineering, it tends to produce a team that is highly technical and project focused. However, it also yields PMs who are less connected to customers and the field and a large gap to their partners in marketing (product or otherwise)

Reporting to Marketing

In my experience, this is the second most likely configuration and a pretty good one.

Pros:

  • Generally produces PMs who are aligned with market needs
  • Good field engagement
  • Close ties to marcom resources etc.
  • Provides a balancing force to engineering. The power over the product is split which forces more conversation and compromise over all aspects of the plan

Cons:

  • PMs reporting to marketing tend to get cut out of the loop with engineering. Not participating as well in project meetings, resource adjustments etc.
  • It tends to produce a less technical PM team which may or may not be a problem depending on the product. But the perception alone will hinder the working relationship with engineering.

Overall, PM can do quite well working in the Marketing organization. It usually helps ensure a business focus on the product direction and most importantly provides some external balance to the engineering organization that is delivering product.

Reporting to business management (CEO or GM)

This is what I believe is the best answer. Sadly it is also probably the least common configuration in tech businesses.

Pros:

  • Addresses the balance of power issue even better than reporting to marketing
  • Leads to strong PMs taking a holistic business perspective. It isn’t about just managing the requirements or the project but rather figuring out what is best for the business.
  • A seat at the same table with all relevant partners: Engineering, Marketing, Sales, Support, Services, etc.

Cons:

  • Frankly, the only issue I can see are related to the quality of the PM leadership – it better be good or it will be unable to get the right traction and end up somewhere else.

If you have any thoughts on the relative merits of these scenarios or your experience with them, please add them in the comments.

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