Should telco’s fire their Product Managers?



Product Managers tend to cop it from all directions – generally because they are trying to balance competing interests… How often have you heard Sales people say about Product Managers,

“They have no idea, sitting in their Ivory towers, never having to deal with irate customers”?

Or an Engineer complain that the Product Manager,

“Is constantly sticking his nose into how we do things”?


So for a lot of Sales people and Engineers, the answer to the question, “Should telco’s fire their Product Managers”, the answer might well be Yes!


But what would a telco without a Product Management function look like???

Well we have experienced it first hand – and truth be told, it isn’t pretty…


A lack of a Product Management capability can mean that there is no central accountability for ensuring that all aspects of what it takes to operate successful products – revenue growth, profitability, sustained competitive advantage and effective customer service – are delivered ongoing.

This manifests itself in a number of ways, including, but not limited to:

  1. Poor understanding of profitability resulting in the business continuing to sell products that were bleeding the organisation – in one case the business had been making losses over multiple years which turned out to be driven entirely from one product. A lack of Product Management meant lacked the focus to explore to determine the source of the losses. We quickly developed an end to end understanding of their costs (which is a critical function of product management – i.e. “understand your costs”) that identified the cause of the issue
  2. Continuous discounting without understanding customer value – in another case, the lack of a Product management function meant that Sales was driving down price in order to try gain market share but with no success. Now this isn’t the fault of Sales – they will do what it takes to get the sale. But the lack of a natural tension in the organisation to offset the desire to discount, meant continuous price reductions with little effect. When we were engaged to identify the cause of the loss of market share, we quickly realised that the issue was very poor customer service. In this particular case, the carrier was the incumbent. Normally in these scenarios, it is the new competitors who drive price reductions. However in this case, we had the unusual scenario of the incumbent driving the price war. Again, a product management function would have identified early the issue as ensuring service performance as a central accountability of product managers
  3. Developing the wrong products – often organisations without a Product Management function will develop the products either pushed on them by vendors and/or by copying what the competition do. A good product team will take into consideration other factors like customer pain points/needs etc. With their KPI’s focused on a combination of revenue, profitability and service performance, a Product Management function is often best place to deliver the right blend of revenue and profitability growth.


Now we should be clear, by Product Management capability – we are not necessarily referring to a group of people called “Product Managers”. Rather we are referring the functions that a Product Manager performs.

And of the criticism’s of Product Managers that they can often lack responsiveness to customer and market needs? Well, in many cases its a valid argument. Product Managers in many cases do need to lift their game – as in an ever increasingly competitive environment with more direct and indirect competitors – serving the customer well is more important than ever.

In the end, give the role whatever title/label you want, or spread the accountability out across the organisation (although in our experience this often doesn’t end well). Which ever way you cut it, Telco’s will always need an effective Product Management function.


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