A few days ago, Karri Saarinen, the Founder of Linear, was featured in . In the interview, he touched on a fascinating aspect of their company’s operations: Linear doesn’t maintain a full-time product management function. Instead, someone from the feature team assumes the role for each feature! This led to an uproar on Twitter, with some questioning the necessity of traditional Product Managers (PMs) and PMs defending their roles.
This article aims to provide a nuanced perspective on this ongoing debate and shed light on the primary functions of Product Management, especially in the context of Product Led Growth (PLG).

Defining the Core Function of Product Management

Gibson Biddle, former VP/CPO at Netflix/Chegg, offers a concise definition:

“The job of Product Management is to answer how the company will delight customers, in hard-to-copy, KPI-enhancing ways.” 

This definition highlights the importance of delivering customer delight in ways that improve key performance indicators (KPIs). However, it’s crucial to adapt this definition to a company’s specific stage and objectives, as not all KPIs are centered around profit margins.

Exploring Complexity in Product Management

The core functions of Product Management can be broken down into three responsibilities, each with varying levels of complexity depending on the company’s unique context.

1. Delighting Customers 🥰

Delighting customers involves understanding their pain points and crafting solutions that not only solve these issues but also exceed expectations, resulting in delight.

  • Low Complexity: When the company comprises builders who mirror the target customers and can directly address their pain points.

  • High Complexity: When the company lacks this alignment, and extensive discovery work is required, or the customer base is vast and not vocal about their pain points.

2. Hard to Copy 👀

The defensibility or moat of a product, often linked to factors like scale economies, network effects, and brand recognition, can range from low to high complexity.

  • Low Complexity: When a company already possesses strong defensibility elements.

  • High Complexity: When a company needs to build or strengthen these elements, which may require strategic decisions that take place in the right order.

3. KPI Enhancement 📈

KPIs can vary significantly based on a company’s stage and objectives, such as proving a problem’s validity, achieving growth, sustainable growth, or predictable growth with margins.

  • Low Complexity: When the company operates with minimal pressure on KPIs or has a straightforward business model.

  • High Complexity: When the company faces high stakes in moving KPIs, especially in competitive markets or complex business scenarios.

So, Does Your Company Need Full-Time Product Management Function?

The answer, in typical Product Manager fashion, is “it depends.” It depends on where your company falls on the complexity spectrum of delighting customers, building defensibility, and enhancing KPIs.

  • If your company leans towards low complexity in most aspects, you might manage without a full-time Product Management function, delegating some responsibilities to other functions.

  • If your company navigates high complexity in multiple dimensions, a dedicated Product Management team becomes a vital necessity to align strategies, navigate complexities, and drive success.

In summary, the need for a full-time Product Management function hinges on your company’s current needs. Evaluating the complexity in delighting customers, building defensibility, and enhancing KPIs will guide your decision and ensure that your approach aligns with your company’s growth goals.

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