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The Smart Techie was renamed Siliconindia India Edition starting Feb 2012 to continue the nearly two decade track record of excellence of our US edition.

Product Managers' Changing Relationships

Sharad Sharma
Monday, May 1, 2006
Sharad Sharma
The relationship between product management and product engineering is a complex one. At times there is some healthy tension between the product manager and the engineering manager. Yet good collaboration between the two is essential for success. It is somewhat like what happens in the U.S. Congress. Most key bills have two sponsors – a credible Democrat and a respected Republican – working across party lines. Sarbanes-Oxley Disclosure Act, McCain-Feingold Campaign Act or Bayh-Dole Patent Act are all results of such collaboration. In the product world, most product strategy decisions or feature calls also require a product manager and a engineering manager to come together. This kind of successful collaboration takes real work. This is particularly the case when the product manager and the engineering manager are not co-located physically.

Whether or not we like it, a new organizational architecture is taking hold. It calls for keeping product management and other customer-facing jobs close to the key markets and the engineering management. Most recent startups, called “micro-multinationals” or “hybrids” have embraced this trend. So have mature multinationals. Many of them have product management in the U.S. and the engineering team and its leadership in India or Israel. The new norm will be to have a product leadership team that is geographically dispersed.

So increasingly product managers have to work with remote engineering managers as partners. While this makes a McCain-Feingold type of collaboration more difficult it also presents opportunities.

One big opportunity is to turn product engineering from a cost-center model to a revenue-sharing model. This is particularly attractive for products with revenues of about $20-$100 million. Here is how it works.

Typically when you transition an engineering team to India you can do that to either your own captive development center or to a foster-home run by one of the many product engineering services companies like Wipro or MindTree. In case you choose the foster-home option, then you can pay that foster-home not by the traditional time-and-material basis but on a revenue share basis subject to a certain floor. The floor guarantees a minimum engineering headcount that will be maintained at all times. Now there are two things that result from this.

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