Leading consumer product orgs

This is the 2nd article in a series on leading consumer product organizations in which I discuss issues related to organization of teams. The article is primarily based on my experiences while heading Product management at Vudu/Walmart & based on other leadership experiences at eBay, Amazon. The first article was on Strategy & prioritization.

What’s the CX we need to build and what’s under the hood?

Customers experienced our services under 3 different brands. While the Vudu brand itself is obvious, the other 2 brand experiences were equally important and had different touch-points at Walmart stores, Walmart.com & mobile devices. Visualizing journey maps for each of these brand experiences helped me derive what products were accessed via different touch-points, what horizontal and vertical experiences supported these products and who on my team was on point for each of these experiences. This translated into a systems view of the product. For a generic streaming service, this could look as follows:

Systems view of a streaming service

What capabilities do we need to build within the team?

In the 2017–2018 time-frame, we lacked product management coverage on the horizontal experiences and tech infrastructure portions of the stack leading to sub-optimal cross-platform experiences for our customers. This often manifested as broken or missing features in certain apps. For example, a customer accessing Vudu over Roku, Web and their Android phone would see a fragmented experience with playback information not carrying over or we may have lacked proper logs on Android leading to broken customer journeys. Likewise for the new family-friendly services that we were building, it was important that we had a consistent set of horizontal services that could support multiple interfaces & products. Identification of these gaps informed the hiring decisions and helped determine the best approach to growing & organizing the team.

One of the benefits of working in a small-mid sized company is that product managers at all levels get to work on multiple domains. As opposed to a large company where you’d have 1 PM for each of the blocks in the diagram above, a PM in a mid-sized company will typically work on multiple areas.

Organization Principles

I found it useful to write a set of organizational principles to inform hiring, growth and org structure decisions. This requires perspective on which org structure will succeed, what makes jobs meaningful & how best to grow careers. This is of-course contextual depending on factors such as company, industry & political dynamics across groups. You may want to vet your principles with your peers in marketing, design & other functions to ensure that you aren’t thinking in a vacuum. Sample principles listed below were written when my team grew big enough to require multiple group product managers.

Clear Ownership: Sub-groups have tightly focused areas with 1–2 Kpis per area. Clear way to understand structure & metrics of teams.

Visibility: Every PM should have appropriate line of sight to interactions with Walmart, media & customers.

Career Growth: Scope of groups should be such that there are growth opportunities for each PM.

Aligned autonomy: The organizational structure must allow cross-pollination of ideas & incentives must be designed to encourage appropriate behaviors.

Product Organization Structures

Here are some ways to think about product organization structures.

  • B2B vs B2C products: At eCommerce companies, it is quite common to have separate Buyer Experience, Advertiser Experience & Seller Experience product organizations. At Vudu, we had separate product groups for the advertiser & consumer experience.
  • By interfaces: Eg: iOS/Android/Web/Android TV/Apple TV. This structure is likely best suited for digital media companies given the breadth of devices & form factors that these services must support.
  • By shared services: eg Trust & Safety/Payments/Cart & Checkout etc. This is commonly seen in eCommerce companies.
  • By role: Eg: A/B Optimization/Growth/Marketing tech/Voice of customer(NPS)/Product operations etc. This is a good model for teams that support the consumer product organization.
  • By domain/vertical: Eg: Media/Home & Garden/Fashion etc. This approach is good for orgs with clearly separable verticals that may require building vertical specific experiences.
  • By engineering domain: This is appropriate for horizontal functions such as Search, Recommendations, Ad Tech where specific product skill sets & domain experience are mandatory to be effective.

You may have one or more structures within the same consumer brand depending on how big the product organization is. At eBay, we had Buyer/Seller/Advertiser experience product orgs. You could apply the same systems view within individual orgs to understand what PM structure is needed at any given time. For instance, the Buyer experience org at eBay had Category, Vertical PM groups, PM groups for horizontal experiences such as Search, Trust and Safety & PM groups in supporting functions such as Analytics & Martech.

In the next post, I will discuss what organizational approach I adopted for Vudu & how to help grow PM careers.

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Vijay Madhavan

Vijay Madhavan

I have led product, partnerships & analytics teams at Walmart, Amazon and eBay. I have directly managed over 25 product managers at various levels.