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In many organizations today, it is standard practice to spread product line responsibility over a number of people and even departments. This is a departure from practices in the recent past in which a department or even single individual held both the knowledge and the control of most aspects of a product line. This departure from tried-and-true methods creates significant problems in product strategy and execution.

This article addresses what I consider to be the three most significant problems caused by diffusing product leadership within an organization.

No storehouse for strategy and tactics

The first problem caused by a diffusion of product responsibility is the loss of a coherent storehouse of product strategy and execution, or tactics. When the product line responsibility is spread over multiple departments (I know of one firm that uses at least seven departments to manage a product line) there is no single person or piece of technology that can be queried to provide a coherent and concise description of the current product status, why we are offering it to our customers, and how it fits into the larger product portfolio.

Incongruences between corporate and product strategy

The next most significant problem created is the probability that new products will not fit into the corporate planning as well as possible. Referring to issue number one above, when there is no single storehouse of product line knowledge, how can the corporate leaders be sure they are communicating to and getting accurate information from the correct personnel?

Product strategy and implementation typically take place several levels below the C-suite. If the bi-directional lines of communication are not open and clear, and they usually are not, misinformation and partial data will spread. The decisions made in conditions like these will not be optimal.

This issue can be minimized in the same manner as the first. Focused responsibility and accountability with clear lines of communication.

Excessive time to market

The third result from this scattering of product leadership is excessive time to market. When every department (seven, remember?) has veto power over most scheduling and launch activities, time to market, and the resulting loss in revenue, are the casualty.

The answer is not to have a single person or department run roughshod over other departments, but there typically are market conditions that demand a certain launch period. When this is missed, product lines can be lost.

The answer is to set priorities in the process. If, for example, the launch date must be met, then all other segments of the project must focus on that. They may have to temporarily modify process or rules to meet the business objectives. This is acceptable as long as all parties are working toward the same goal.

Conclusion

Communication is the key to success. I write about this frequently on my website (www.dougringer.com) and in my books and articles. If a firm has perfect communication, then this practice of diluting product leadership might work. Since we are imperfect humans and organizations are composed of many, imperfect humans, the odds are greatly against having a product line system that can function without a single nexus point.

To make product development and strategy effective, choose a capable and strong product leader and give them the title, responsibility, and authority to provide to the company what their customers and markets need. A well-thought-out product that fits corporate and product line strategies like a well-tailored glove.

Doug Ringer is a product development and marketing expert and the author of “The Product Rocket: Launching New Products to Out-of-this-World Success.” Doug has held global roles in marketing, R&D, and manufacturing at General Electric, Ericsson, Schneider Electric, and Honeywell. Follow his work at www.dougringer.com and @doug_ringer on Twitter.

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