Should a product manager be Batman or the Lone Ranger?

Product managers are responsible for making many decisions about our products as they are developed; however, one of the biggest decisions has to be whether to team up with another company to develop a product. It’s the classic “Batman” (he has a sidekick named Robin) versus “The Lone Ranger” kind of decision. Which path should you take?

Products that are simple

Look, not every product out there requires rocket scientists to create (can someone say “pet rock”?). A couple of researchers, Esteve Almirall and Ramon Casadesus-Maxanell, have spent time investigating this topic.

What they found may surprise you. It turns out that if you decide to partner with another company, it will create a lot of problems 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 need to partner with another company. Doing so will only slow down the development process as teams try to coordinate when such collaboration might actually happen internally. Also, when it comes time to market the product, the companies involved may have different opinions on how to go about it.

Products that are complicated

On the other side of the product development spectrum are complex products. These are 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 partnering companies. The reasons are quite simple: ultimately, during the development process, product teams will look for ways to innovate. This process is very difficult to do internally and almost impossible to do if you have to coordinate your actions with an external company.

Especially if your product has no competition because it’s so new, then you know how hard it is for a product manager to keep their own management supporting the project. Imagine how difficult it would be to keep the management of multiple companies on board!

Products that are perfect for collaboration

Sorry to be so negative about this idea of ​​companies collaborating to develop a new product. However, not everything is gloom and doom. It turns out that there is a class of products that can really benefit from having a product manager bring 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 designing a product isn’t that difficult, but when there are decisions that can go either way, having another partner company look at what your company is doing can be a big help.

Their insights can help prevent your company from making those product decisions that always seem so foolish in hindsight. The benefit of this information far outweighs the effort it will take to coordinate development activities and marketing programs.

What all this means to you

In our childhood we all liked both Batman and the Lone Ranger. 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’re developing is fairly simple or wickedly complex, 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 partnership can have valuable benefits by providing additional sets of input and feedback.

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’s the ability to make the right decision to partner or not that will make you a product management superhero within your company…

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