Product managers are responsible for making many decisions about our products as they are developed; however, one of the most important decisions has to be whether we are going to partner with another company to develop a product. It’s the classic “Batman” type of decision (he has a partner named Robin) versus “The Lone Ranger.” Which way should you take?
Products that are simple
See, not all of the products out there require rocket scientists to create them (can anyone say “pet rock”?). A couple of researchers, Esteve Almirall and Ramon Casadesus-Maxanell have spent some time researching this topic.
What they have found may surprise you. It turns out that if you decide to partner with another company, it will create a lot of trouble for you as a product manager. This may just be a cost of doing business; however, if the product you are developing is simple, partnering is a waste of time.
The simpler the product, the less the need to partner with another company. Doing so will only slow down the development process, as teams are trying to coordinate when such collaboration could actually take place internally. Also, when it comes time to market the product, the companies involved may have different opinions on how to do it.
Products that are complicated
On the other side of the product development spectrum are complex products. These are the innovative products that your customers have potentially never seen before. Think of things like the original Palm Pilot or the Apple iPad.
These products are also poor candidates to be created by joining companies. The reasons are pretty simple: Ultimately, during the development process, product teams will look for ways to innovate. This process is very difficult to carry out internally and almost impossible to carry out if you have to coordinate your actions with an external company.
Especially if your product has no competition because it is very new, then you know how difficult it is for a product manager to maintain their own management supporting the project. Imagine how difficult it would be to keep the management of multiple companies on board!
Suitable products for collaboration
Sorry for being so negative about this idea of companies collaborating to develop a new product. However, it is not all doom and gloom. It turns out that there is a class of products that can actually benefit from a product manager bringing in an outside company as a development partner: low-medium complexity products.
Why does external collaboration work here? Good question. It turns out that when product design is not that difficult, but when there are decisions that can go either way, having another partner company take a look at what your company is doing can help a great deal.
Their insights can help prevent your business from making those product decisions that always seem so silly in hindsight. The benefit of this information far outweighs the effort you will have to put into coordinating development activities and marketing programs.
What does all this mean to you?
In our childhood, we all loved Batman and the Lone Ranger alike. However, when it comes to the job of a product manager, we end up having to choose who we like best. The choice is not always easy to make.
If the product we are developing is quite simple or extremely complex, then partnering with another company is a bad idea. It will just slow things down and not provide much additional value. However, if we are working on a low-medium complexity product, the association can have valuable benefits by providing additional sets of inputs and observations.
Product managers are generally not afraid to go it alone. However, there are times when we really need another company to act as our partner when we are developing a new product. It is the ability to make the right decision to partner or not that will make you a product management superhero within your company …