I recently talked to another early stage software company that is managing their product portfolio by committee. Oddly enough they too are using an agile development approach – I believe that the committee approach fits well into the notion of daily meetings, product backlogs on the whiteboard, etc. Regardless of the development methodology I wonder how sustainable this is. At what point does this method of managing products breaks down?
Early stage companies typically have a dozen employees or so. What I’ve seen so far is that the committee consists of a combination of the CEO, head of development, Chief Architect, and head of marketing. One or more members are usually the founders / visionaries. Now each have their own roles within the company and they devote a portion of their time (roughly 10%) on the product management activity. The committee primarily decides what goes into the product and when. All works well, but the challenge they face as the company grows is that the members of the committee become more consumed with their primary roles (as they should) and the product management activities fall by the wayside. The result is that a single person – usually the head of development or the chief architect – takes on the task of deciding what goes into the product. But as the development team grows, these product management decisions are made from an internal perspective and not from the outside in as they should be. I believe that as companies approach and move through the $1.5M to $3.0M annual revenue milestone and/or the 20-25 employee threshold, they will see the breakdown of the product management by committee methodology. Most notably, committee members find it a challenge to attend meetings and to focus on the details of what needs to go into the product.
Here are some of suggestions to help get through this phase … (1) hire a product manager with product management experience, (2) invest in building an infrastructure (processes, artifacts, etc.) that meets the needs of your development methodology, (3) document your core competency, market problems you solve and why you add value, and (4) setup regular status meetings with the stakeholders. The key is to setup your product management methodology to support the next stage of your companies growth.