Listen to the Interview
I took notice when Pitney Bowes created a Product Management Council, and I wanted to learn what they are doing with this council. Anytime an organization puts a focus on their product development and management capability, I expect good things to come of it. That’s because products are the revenue engine of organizations and the better job we as product managers and innovators can do creating products that provide customers value, the better it is for our organization.
To find out about this focus that Pitney Bowes has placed on product, I spoke with Felicia Anderson. She is the Senior Director of the Product Management Council and Launch Management at Pitney Bowes. She helps product managers build their skills to increase product launch success and deliver greater business impact.
In our discussion, you’ll learn:
- tips for improving the product management capability of your organization,
- how to construct a vision of the product management team, and
- a simple way to get started through lunch-and-learn meetings.
Practices and Ideas for Product Managers and Innovators
- Let’s start with some context — what is the business of Pitney Bowes? At Pitney, we help our clients combine both physical technologies and digital technologies to conduct commerce. So as we like to say, we’re the craftsmen of commerce.
- What is the charter/purpose of the Product Management Council? Our vision is to help our product managers increase their capabilities so that they can have a greater business impact. We believe product management is essential to fueling the growth of the company and increasing the innovation that we’re able to bring to market. At Pitney and in other companies, product management is often distributed throughout the organization and what we’re trying to do with the Product Management Council initiative is to bring that together so that we see each other as a community and we have a place to have a voice jointly.
- What were the events that led to the creation of a Product Management Council? Last Spring, which was before I had joined, our CEO was talking to his executive team and he asked the question, “Who’s responsible for the care and feeding of the product managers?” Because they are distributed in the business units and even in the lines of business within the business units, there wasn’t really a single person or a single set of people who were responsible for the development of product management. As a result of those discussions came this idea of establishing a product management council.
- How is the Council structured? There are two pieces to the product management council initiative. One is the product management leadership team. That’s our executive sponsors and the leaders of each of our five business units. That size of that team is 22 people. We meet monthly and discuss the issues that are at top of mind regarding product management. The second piece, of course, is the broader community itself. It’s the 225 people throughout the organization that comprises the product management community. Most of them are product managers, that’s product managers and their management, and also related stakeholders. We have 30 or 35 people from marketing as well. Some other key stakeholders, like learning and development in HR, also are in that community.
- What activities have you done? Each year or each period we agree at the top level what are our focus areas. So we have different components occurring regularly. The gemstone activity is our annual summit. Once a year we get all of our product managers, in fact, everybody in the product management community, in person, face to face, for a two-day meeting. We just happened to have that PM summit last week. So that’s a very visible, very impactful piece of the program. We had some fantastic external speakers sharing best practices, some internal speakers sharing case studies, and we had a good deal of interactive sessions. One of the things we really wanted to foster is cross business unit and cross team interaction. We have about 150 product managers in the company and with that many, you simply can’t know all of your peers. This was a wonderful opportunity to foster collaboration. Another activity is a monthly PM community call. This is a web meeting or conference call. We share internal experiences, case studies, success stories and also lessons learned. The monthly meetings help to foster a little bit of that cross team communication we want. We also highlight resources that product managers can use as they expand their products. We have a lot of shared services and not all the product managers have detailed information. For example, we have a team that will do usability studies. It’s a great service that we have within the company, but not all product managers were aware of the details of the service or how they get connected with it. We also periodically will bring in external experts to do skill-builder webinars. Another piece is we have built an internal Yammer site for our PM community, trying to make it very easy for a PM to ask a quick question. You put those four key pieces together and it comprises our Product Management Council initiative.
- Where did you start — what were the first objectives tackled? We started by creating a crisp vision. That included stating what we were and what we were not. We did end up settling on wanting to build and enhance the product management capability within the company so that product management could have a greater business impact. Next was to decide on the members of the Council. Then it was time to have a kick-off meeting to get started.
- What advice would you give to others to consider creating a Council? As soon as product managers can’t name all the other product managers, then that’s a good signal that you’ll get some value out of creating this kind of initiative. It doesn’t have to be as formal as we have at Pitney. You can just reach out to one of your product managers that you know in another business unit or another group and say, “Hey, I’m thinking of starting up a monthly meeting where we talk about issues that we’re facing as product managers.” If you can get a handful of those folks interested, you can make it pretty lightweight on yourself and share responsibility for the meetings. If you do start a program, I would encourage you, after you get a little bit of traction, to find yourself an executive sponsor. I think you’ll find pretty good reception to the idea.
Useful links for product managers:
- Pitney Bowes website
“There’s nothing more wasteful than brilliantly engineering a product that doesn’t sell.” -Rich Mirnov
Thank you for being an Everyday Innovator and learning with me from the successes and failures of product innovators, managers, and developers. If you enjoyed the discussion, help out a fellow product manager by sharing it using the social media buttons you see below.