25 May, 2016

The value of an external Product Management Consultant

Many companies recognise that they have a requirement for Product Manager. However, for some companies, they have muddled along without one but know privately that it remains an Achilles heel.

This may be passable on a day-to-day basis, but to build a long term roadmap or to make a step it is sorely lacking some expertise.

There is a perception trap here: some organisations don't really grasp what the product manager does and so underestimate the scope of the role, so can't justify a full time role.

Recently, I have been talking to organisations about part-time / interim Product Management – and particularly the value that an external product management consultant brings.

What an external consultant does NOT bring

  • Intimate knowledge of the technology
  • Intimate knowledge of the product and service
  • Intimate knowledge of the market
These factors may, to some, to be crippling reasons as to why an interim product manager or a short term consultant may not be able to provide enough value. But this is incorrect – these very reasons provide tremendous value.

Advantages of an independent consultant

  • Objectivity An external consultant can be dispassionate about origin of products, their history, the processes or the people behind it. This person can look objectively at the products / product portfolio / product processes at that point in time and provide an unbiased perspective without the burden of historical baggage.
  • Independence An external consultant is equally unknown to all the organisation - therefore that person has no 'pet' interests, favouritism or bias.
  • Ignorance of the Product and the Market An external consultant is unlikely to know the intricacies of the the product or the market - and cannot hope to (in comparison to the expertise of the existing staff). Therefore, the important (but sometimes overlooked) statements of product differentiation, market characteristics, competitive analysis and product-market fit have to be clearly articulated. 
  • Better Decision Frameworks The external consultant should bring toolkit of analytical and decision frameworks that map analysis and research, leading to transparent and justifiable decisions. In my experience, once complete, it is rapidly realised that the product positioning and collateral is missing half of the value proposition.
  • Best Practice from other industries / sectors An external consultant should bring a wealth of experience learnt elsewhere on alternative business / revenue models, partner relations, go-to-market techniques, pricing strategies etc.


How to get the best out of a Product Management consultant

Interim Product Management consultants do need to be contracted / engaged properly in order to define boundaries for both side. There are several modes:
  • Time based (ie per diem)
  • Capped (ie we'd like up to  x hours / days of your time)
  • Please complete this task by this date (eg hit a release date)
  • Objective based
  • Task based


Projects that suit an external Product Management consultant

External product management consultants are best at the following tasks:

Product Management

  • Competitive Analysis
  • Product Portfolio Analysis 
    • see this excellent session on Portfolio Management given by Richard Jones to the Cambridge Product Management Network
  • Product Testing & Review: 
    • External product testing, user experience, review of product literature (eg help documentation, training materials etc) and positioning

Product – Market fit

  • Product Roadmapping – see my presentation on Seven Rules of Product Roadmaps
  • Pricing Analysis
  • Release Management – a dispassionate expert to steer a product towards release, during a stressful and critical period. See case study on CDK Global for my role as Release Manager.

Product Marketing

These types of tasks usually become part of the second phase of a product management project:
  • Sales and Marketing literature review eg collaterals, external website, sales training, sales tools

Development Processes and Tools review

  • Again, these is often a phase two of a review, because the existing processes and tools have supported the existing status quo which has been identified as being unsatisfactory.
  • These endeavours are heavily operational and become difficult to generalise, but often these projects revolve around information / data collection and analysis to support decision making or information sharing – particularly to the sales and operational teams.


“Hold-the-Fort” Interim Product Management

Many companies leave the product manager role vacant for ages whilst they recruit the perfect candidate. Again, indecision / lack of consensus / strategic flip-flop may cause no end of pain.


‘Hoping’ that you’ll muddle through with your existing processes is well.... muddling. Does the investment in your development deserve a muddled product management approach?

The cost of not using a Interim Product Manager

If the organisation has decided you need a Product Manager then it is already 4 months too late. Any recruit spends 4 months playing catch-up with all the Product Management debt, so the company is waiting months and months before the Product Management function is actually leading the business forward.

When the permanent recruit comes on board, he or she is immediately deluged with a series of crises or burning issues. Their head immediately dives into the here and now, fighting fires and making snap decisions without a good understanding of context or history. This is an unpleasant start and most probably not what the new recruit was promised at interview.

With 4 months of no product management, each division of the business has already set off on its own journey of product management decision-making (ie they make decisions that are optimized to their own agendas, not those of the market), which makes steering the troops  back on course towards a transparent set of objectives VERY difficult….. if not too difficult to contemplate.


Advantages of Hiring an Interim Product Manager

  • Product Management won't judder to a halt. Maintaining the discipline of Product Management will continue on and it won't cave in leaving the organisation to the ravages of a free-for-all.
  • New and refreshing thought process
  • Like all consultants, because they don't have the vested interest in the short term, they can look objectively at the long term.
  • The Bridging Product Manager can accelerate the onboarding process for new recruit. The new hire won’t be overwhelmed by a crisis situation and / or an overflowing issues list and / or a host of people grinding themselves against each other.

See Also

See this article from the 280 Group: Don’t Let Your Product Fail While You’re Recruiting for a Product Manager.



For assistance with your Product Management 

Please contact me.

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