Bringing Product Management to a company for the first time

Jon Harmer
3 min readDec 14, 2020
Photo by Daniel Mingook Kim on Unsplash

I belong to a community called Product Growth Leaders, and we get together regularly to talk about various product topics. This past week we had a discussion on bringing product management to a company for the first time. It’s a fascinating topic, and made extra complex in practice because product management is frequently misunderstood, and is likely happening in some form at that company already.

My initial answer to the prompt (What would be your key recommendations to an organization looking to bring the product management function into their organization?) before the meeting was:

I think it depends on the lifecycle of the company — I have joined a 10 year old company that hadn’t ever had product management as well as been the first product hire in a startup.

If you’re a more established company, you definitely need to understand what problem you are trying to solve with product management (aka start with why) Also understanding what the scope of the role will be and who is doing parts of that now (understanding that the PM person being brought in will also significantly inform/affect that scope).

For earlier stage companies, the CEO is traditionally the chief product thinker, and bringing in someone junior to help offload some of the tactical product bits can be useful, OR, the CEO can bring in a true product leader if they are able to step back and let that person truly drive the product. I’ve seen a good bit of conflict with CEOs that are the original product leader bringing in senior product people but not relinquishing control — makes for a lot of tension.

As we talked through it as a group, we covered a lot of additional ground, and discussed things like “Does product management happen if there is no one with the title ‘Product Manager’?

My assertion, which was generally shared by all, is that product management is happening in every company, even if it’s not formalized or being done well. Somehow, someone is making guesses about what problems a set of users have, and prioritizing the work of solving those problems. And when a new product person comes in to that org, they will be taking pieces away from a number of people in the org, which must be done carefully if you want it to be successful. Someone’s doing that work now, and when a PM comes in, they’re taking that part of their job, so it is important for the organization (especially the PM and whoever is hiring them) to be very intentional and thoughtful about that.

The other key is to truly understand WHY you’re bringing product management to the company. If it’s because the board says “you are at a stage where you need a PM,” but the people doing that work already don’t feel that pain point, there’s going to be that tension I mentioned in my initial thoughts. the CEO won’t stop making all the product decisions, and the PM will struggle to have influence. As is often the case with product, you really need to underastand what problem you’re solving, in this case by bringing in a PM. If you understand that, it will make it easier to bring in the right kind of PM and ensure their success.

Learn more about the Product Growth Leaders community here, and you can view the recording of this conversation here.

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Jon Harmer

I understand users and buyers and their problems. I help solve those problems and communicate that value.