Product Management is NOT a gap filler

This article was originally published in June 2009, on On Product Management, a personal blog that is no longer available. It was titled: So why do we undermine ourselves?

I updated and republished it here because I saw an article talking about Product Ops — a relatively new Product role — as a gap filler/glue role. I’ve never liked the term glue or gap filler to describe anyone’s job and thought this article might help people thinking about new and evolving roles.

In an article entitled “What is a Product Manager for?” writer Jacques Murphy states:

A Product Manager fills in the gaps between different functions and departments in order to make sure that thebproduct develops and makes progress, with the aim of making the product perform better relative to the competition.

I later saw a blog post quoting Chris Cummings (author of the excellent Product Management Meets Pop Culture blog) which states:

The Product Manager is the glue that binds the team together and the grease that keeps the product moving in the right direction.

NOTE: While these two are older references to the “glue” metaphor, but don’t think that its use has gone away. A quick web search turns up numerous recent references, including this McKinsey article from 2017 about Product Management. The article itself is pretty good, but the VERY first line says:

Product managers are the glue that bind the many functions that touch a product — engineering, design, customer success, sales, marketing, operations, finance, legal, and more.

Now I must say that both Jacques and Chris gave a lot more detail to better explain the gaps, grease and glue, but what business organization would define itself that way?

  • “We’re Marketing. We’re the grease that enables Sales to do it’s job efficiently.”
  • “We’re Support. We fill the gaps left by Development, Documentation and Training.”
  • “We’re Project Management. We’re the glue that ensure Development and QA stay synchronized.”

Do any of those sound like ways those groups would describe themselves? Not to me! So why should we refer to ourselves that way? Particularly when we believe we deliver a critical function within the business.

Not only do the grease, glue and gap definitions diminish the value of Product Management, but they are fundamentally wrong.

As Nick Coster of Brainmates wrote in a comment on Chris Cummings blog,

Hey Chris, I used to see the role of the product manager as “the glue that binds teams together” but have now come to think that description grossly understates the imporance of product management.

By referring to the role as a binding or lubricating function, we acknowledge the dysfunction of other teams and accept the burden of resolving their inability to work together. If instead we lead the teams and focus their outputs then we, as the leaders for our products, can drive better outcomes for the business, our customers and ourselves.

I completely agree with Nick.

It’s time to stop describing Product Management as something that fills the gaps or greases the wheel etc. and start describing it consistently as:

a business critical role that helps optimize R&D investments, aligns teams across departmental silos and helps drive business success for the products under management.

Product Management is a critical enabler of business success, and like other departments such as Sales, Marketing and Finance, must be structured, staffed and directed in a deliberate manner to maximize opportunity for success.

Saeed

BTW, here’s a good post exhorting Product Managers NOT to be the glue. The message is starting to sink in.

https://productmanagers.substack.com/p/dont-be-the-glue

Product Consultant. Contact me for help in building great products, processes and people. http://www.transformationlabs.io

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Saeed Khan

Saeed Khan

Product Consultant. Contact me for help in building great products, processes and people. http://www.transformationlabs.io

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