Within the corporate landscape, Data and Advanced Analytics products often take birth in an informal manner. It’s been a burning topic of discussion during my recent Office hours. The catalyst might be competition from rival companies dabbling in AI, perhaps someone has brainstormed an idea that could streamline operations, or it could stem from a belief that data could enhance an existing product or kickstart a new one.
Picture this: someone approaches the data team and suggests exploring these possibilities. As individuals in data roles are typically keen to venture into uncharted territories, they sometimes dive headfirst without adhering to the basic best practices that should precede any project initiation. This scenario is less likely to occur if there’s a product manager on board.
The bitter reality is that while companies have integrated product managers into tech teams, they’ve often overlooked their inclusion within the data function.
Without proper product management in place, projects are prone to derailment. So what’s the solution? The role of product management can be approximated by a Data Manager or another senior data role within the project. However, from my experience, this workaround tends to breed new issues. Firstly, individuals in data roles may not excel as product managers due to their detail-oriented nature which might cause them to overlook user needs or other technical aspects. Secondly, they often lack sufficient authority to direct other teams or influence their priorities. Lastly, juggling both challenging roles can stretch these individuals too thin causing them to lose their technical prowess due to insufficient focus on technical issues related specifically to data.
The resolution isn’t cut-and-dried; it largely hinges on your company’s specific circumstances. You can certainly advocate for a Product Manager, but if there isn’t one already in place, it could be due to budgetary constraints for data projects. Over the long haul, it’s crucial for data managers to highlight this need to higher-ups. In the short term, however, you need to find a workaround.
Throughout my career, I’ve experimented with and observed various strategies with varying degrees of success: upskilling data roles so they can confidently assume product management functions; seeking assistance from product managers to either support or coach the data role; establishing a streamlined process with blueprints to maintain control and clearly indicating that the data role will be the DRI.
One radical solution is not initiating the project without a Product Manager in place. While this might shield your team from embarking on a perilous project, if the requester is determined enough, they might seek help from another team that may lack expertise in advanced analytics products - potentially leading to more serious issues that may eventually circle back to you.
If you are not fortunate enough to have Product Management support for all your data-related projects, brace yourself for a path riddled with risks and challenges for both you and your team.