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Should you hire more Product Managers? A Case for Lean Product Management

Elias Lieberich, Managing Director
Elias Lieberich, Co-Founder Product Matters
The team composition is absolutely crucial – and important to consider across all functions. Sometimes more Product Managers hurt more than they help.

I’ve noticed an uptick in hiring recently. Over the past couple of weeks, many of you reached out. This begs the question: why hire a Product Manager? The answer I often get is “the product team is totally overloaded.”

I say not so fast: let’s dive a bit deeper, shall we?

Minimal Viable Scope

It’s important to understand that Product Managers are always busy. Adding more Product Managers sounds like a fix, but it often just increases overhead. The essence of a Product Manager’s value is to reduce ambiguity. This only works if the scope of a PM is sufficiently large. Too many Product Managers in a crowded area will clog the system, preventing any one of them, no matter how good they are, from clarifying the direction.

My first manager used to say, “It is just right when it feels like just a little bit too much,” and I think I agree. PMs can grow into a slightly overwhelming role and then grow from there.

Don’t Make Product the Bottleneck

Often, the problem is setting priorities right and working on the things that actually matter. I see senior PMs, sometimes CPOs with dozens of reports, working on very tactical things—babysitting engineering in their delivery, critiquing or even creating the designers’ mock-ups, or acting as the de-facto QA engineer.

Don’t get me wrong, your team will think the world of you, and they think this is what Product Managers do. That makes everyone feel good, yet the PMs will become bottlenecks. The real work—reducing ambiguity and clarifying direction— will not happen enough. Teams will see the PM try but will lack the clarity they need.

Upgrading Product Managers to focus on where they add real value is the way to go rather than adding more Product Managers focusing on the wrong things.

Invest in Other Functions and Leverage Product

Before making a hiring decision, take a good look at the balance in the team. In many cases, the right call is not to hire another PM but to invest in SWE, UXD, or UXR instead. A couple of antipatterns, what they mean and what you can do about it:

  • PMs are busy triaging tickets and directing engineers? Your PMs are acting more like POs. This is super inefficient because engineers are much more adept at organizing their work. Hire SWEs and get Engineering to coordinate their own discovery work (not popular, but much better for everyone).
  • PMs are busy figuring out detailed front-end requirements and edge cases? You think it’s cheaper to wing the UXD. That’s a grave mistake and will slow everyone down (and create an inferior product). Hire a Designer. That investment will pay off quickly. For most products, 0.75 to 1 UXD per PM is a good rule of thumb.
  • Teams seem to endlessly set discovery goals? Consider a user researcher. It is one of the most underrated functions, and you should aim for about 0.25-0.5 UXR per PM.

Handling Objections to Lean Product Management

These changes often require some adjustment and expectation setting on how the teams share work (e.g. engineering might need to do more). I had this discussion with all my teams. I guarantee there will be bickering—but I also guarantee these teams will be more successful and more efficient than teams with too much product overhead.

Conclusion

In conclusion, before deciding to hire more Product Managers, consider the broader team dynamics and invest in other key roles that can support the PM function. This lean approach ensures that Product Managers can focus on their core strengths, leading to a more balanced and successful team.

Have you tried Lean Product Management? Share your experiences and insights in the comments or reach out if you have any questions!

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