What does product management mean to you? Everyone’s perception is unique.
Digital product management is a relatively new and constantly evolving concept. In the old days, product management was mainly a marketing function. Today, we have a whole organizational division dedicated to product, where product managers reside.
That said, no company applies product management in the same way. As a result, there’s no single source of truth for where to start with product management.
When I was pursuing my MBA, a professor of mine told me, “You only need to know four things to thrive in business: how to plan, how to organize, how to lead, and how to control.” He was so confident that I got excited to learn more and apply it to my job as a PM.
In this guide, we’ll provide an overview of the four functions of management and explain how they can serve as a guiding light for product managers.
Table of contents
- What are the four functions of management?
- Applying the four functions of management
- Benefits of using the four functions of management
- Management antipatterns to avoid
- How to implement the four functions of management
What are the four functions of management?
The four functions of management are:
- Planning — Set where you want to land and craft a plan to get there. The plan may contain strategic and tactical aspects designed to help you reach your goal
- Organizing — There are always multiple ways to get the job done. Knowing which approach is most effective for each circumstance requires expertise and experience. Organizing is a constant activity to keep teams progressing
- Leading — Great managers are great leaders. Leading means creating a space where great ideas can surface and not pushing the teams toward your own ideas
- Controlling — In this context, controlling means measuring results. You must be aware of what’s happening and define actions whenever necessary to correct course. Be careful not to confuse controlling with micromanaging
Now let’s demonstrate how to apply these functions to your day-to-day product management activities.
Applying the four functions of management
Product management is complex, and teams can get lost without specific boundaries. That’s why the four management functions come in very handy.
Suppose you work for a travel agency and want to expand your services. You’ve created a digital platform that does it all: customers submit their budget, and the platform organizes the whole trip, including transport, accommodation, and local experiences.
Time to start building, right? I’d advise you to pump the brakes, unless you want your teams to run in circles.
Let’s apply the four management functions and see how they aid in product management activities for our travel agency example:
The first step is to set a vision: “Be the biggest travel agency in my state.”
The next step is to develop a plan to get there. Start by crafting a strategy and then define milestones to achieve it. For example, “By the end of Q2, acquire 2,000 new customers and build a social media presence that generates 15 percent of new customers.”
Knowing where to land and having a high-level plan isn’t enough get you there. You have to define how teams are organized and how they should interact.
For example, you might consider using scrum as a working framework, where product managers are responsible for providing directions, goals, and feedback. This way, the team members know how they should collaborate and can focus on reaching the goals.
Now comes the fundamental part. Leading is hard because true leadership is earned and not imposed. Great product managers lead by context, not by control.
The best way to do that is to sharpen your communication skills. Instead of telling teams what to do, tell them why solving specific problems matters and work together to define more suitable solutions.
Only what you measure gets done. Setting a goal and forgetting about it will ensure it isn’t achieved.
As a product manager, you need to monitor the results and question the team whenever they don’t look right. Ideally, you will work with them to define corrective actions whenever necessary. Ensure the team is on track to achieve the goal and act quickly when deviations occur.
The four aspects complement each other. If you fail to implement any of the above, you won’t produce the results you want to see.
Benefits of using the four functions of management
As a product manager, you are responsible for overseeing the process of planning, developing, and launching new products or services. This requires a collaborative effort of multiple teams, each contributing unique skills and expertise. However, without a clear direction, it’s easy for teams to become lost, resulting in wasted time, effort, and resources.
This is where the four functions of management come into play. Planning, organizing, leading, and controlling provide a framework for product managers to ensure that their team is moving in the right direction, collaborating effectively, and staying on track to achieve their goals.
The four functions of management can help product managers:
By implementing the four functions of management, product managers can achieve clarity on what needs to be done, who is responsible for doing it, and how it will be accomplished. This clarity can reduce misunderstandings and miscommunication among team members, leading to a more cohesive and efficient team.
Increase engagement among teams
The four functions of management can also help product managers to boost engagement levels among team members. By involving the team in the planning and organizing process, they feel more invested in the product and are more likely to stay motivated throughout the project’s duration.
The four functions of management enable product managers to make swift progress and facilitate prompt decision-making. By breaking the project down into manageable tasks and establishing a clear timeline, product managers can ensure that the team stays on track and can quickly pivot if necessary.
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By utilizing the four functions of management, product managers can deliver meaningful outcomes that meet or exceed the stakeholders’ expectations. By combining traditional management principles with modern technology, product managers can enhance their ability to manage complex projects and deliver successful products or services.
Management antipatterns to avoid
If you’re not careful, the four management functions can be distorted into something unhelpful. When they’re misapplied, the results can be terrifying.
Management isn’t about limiting teams; it’s about setting the direction and providing the conditions to get there.
Some of the antipatterns I’ve seen product managers carry out include:
- Defining a highly prescriptive plan without involving a single team member
- Determining how teams should work and insisting on approving everything
- Micromanaging software engineers to ensure they deliver quickly
These antipatterns usually lead to poor results and disengaged team members. So, be aware of these traps and make sure you implement the four functions correctly.
Some challenges you may face when applying the four functions of management include:
- Resistance to change from team members
- Organizational constraints that limit the implementation of new practices
- Difficulty in creating a balance between providing guidance and micromanaging
- Uncertainty in measuring the right KPIs and adjusting them when necessary
How to implement the four functions of management
Here are six practical steps to implement the four functions of management in product management:
- Assess the current situation — Evaluate how your organization and teams are currently working. Identify gaps, bottlenecks, and areas of improvement
- Set clear goals and a vision — Define your product vision and align it with your organization’s objectives. Ensure that your goals are SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound)
- Establish a suitable organizational structure — Determine the best way to organize your teams and their workflows. Consider using agile methodologies, such as scrum or kanban, to improve efficiency and collaboration
- Lead by example — Be an inspiring and supportive leader. Encourage open communication, collaboration, and innovation within your team
- Monitor progress and make adjustments — Regularly review your team’s progress toward goals and adjust your plans as needed. Use data-driven insights to make informed decisions and to steer your team in the right direction
- Continuously improve — Keep refining your management practices and encourage your team to do the same. Learn from your successes and failures and strive for excellence
Conclusion and key takeaways
Applying the four functions of management – planning, organizing, leading, and controlling – to product management can help teams navigate complex projects, deliver meaningful results, and improve overall performance.
However, it’s essential to avoid common pitfalls, such as micromanaging and excluding team members from decision-making processes.
By fostering a culture of collaboration, innovation, and continuous improvement, product managers can lead their teams to success and create products that delight customers.
Featured image source: IconScout
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