When a new startup business is formed, the founders are usually responsible for the product as well as the business functions. Its their vision. They are convinced that the world can and should look a certain way and they are compelled to make it so.
This involves both understanding the need and defining the product or service that will satisfy that need. It also extends to how how a business can be formed and grown around that product / market fit.
Because of the early fusing of product and business, the early stages have both of these functions directly working with the other key business function - development. The people driving the business and the product are in high contact and directly aligned with the people building the product and delivering the outcome.
It looks a bit like this:
Then as the business grows the functions start to separate out. The top business functions get less and less high-touch contact with the development of the products. At this point, the founders usually focus on the business side of things such as strategy. They increasingly become sources of decisions rather than information.
As the triangles move apart, additional layers of processes and people are added to cover this loss. One of the key layers is product management.
Product Managers become the connection between the two triangles. This is why its a tough job. They are the tip of each iceberg with most key people still feeling the pain of separation.
Many product managers have and will continue to fail to live up to such expectations. Certainly many businesses do not recognise the degree to which they are exposed with such a structure. In particular how the business strategy and product strategy are not as aligned as they should be with delivery.
It is interesting that the majority of thought leadership on how to fix this is coming from the product and development disciplines rather than from the business side of the equation. It is certainly the more engineering and product led companies in tech that are driving towards integrating "product thinking” across the business.
Is this how we would purposefully engineer a business? Or is it just how it ends up working out through the natural growth described above?