How Does a Platform Product Manager Drive Impact?


TLDR: a product manager creates impact for your internal platform the way a PM drives impact for an external facing product. Those key skills can be easily overlooked or undervalued in the early stages - the time it's best to get the right DNA early.


When I was the PM for overhauling the billing infrastructure, that gave me the stress often associated with platform work; but also some insight on how to demonstrate impact.

At the time, I felt that just delivery was, itself, impact. After all, the existing infrastructure was bad, and we knew we were losing potential customer who would prefer to use PayPal.

What I got right was getting a clear (although painfully exhaustive set of requirements) down and managing on-going delivery.

What I missed was using communication to drive impact. I kept key stakeholders updated on core delivery and potential slippage. And I think that's an important piece.

But I would zoom out in the following ways for platform (IdP):

What does impact mean?

Every company may end up defining the impact differently.

Without gaining agreement, especially with key stakeholders, this will be a problem.

Eventually, you'll want to hone in on metrics that matter, but it's alright to find some kind of "North Star" that represents what the impact will be.

But as context, let's first look at how companies define the impact of their internal platform.[1]

If we accept the premise that a platform approach, versus an "every team for themselves" approach, yields better promises of DevOps maturity, what has been a factor that separates those that succeed from those that don't?

According to the article, that x-facto has been a Product Manager dedicated to the platform success. The valued skills match the Product Manager discipline.[3]

The top three are:

This provides clues in terms of how the impact is delivered.

In the same way that an external product manager needs to apply these skill for their customer-facing products, a platform product manager does the same.

why do product managers impact platform outcomes?

But why do these skills result in the outcomes?

Let's define some of the possible problem states.

If your company is exploring the value, defining the problems to solve can help provide the clarity.

In other words, what are the hurdles that must be overcome to achieve the value of the platform?

For example, one of the strategic benefits is increasing the valuation of your business. This is achieved by reducing the time to market for new products that can increase the revenue in top of the core product post PMF.

product managers solve trade-off problems

Execution problems can be solved by the engineers themselves.

The challenge comes when there are trade-offs to be made among multiple stakeholders.

Here are some examples:[4]

It's not that the engineers can't solve it technically. It's mostly a factor of time and focus.

Objective functions for a given EM or other stakeholder is to optimize for their execution goals.

However, platforms need to solve for the highest total return with the lowest deviance from any individual objective function. But there will likely be deviance in the initial problem solving space.

That's a lot of overhead.

Part of the role of the product manager is to harmonize and prioritize the different needs and pain points of the internal teams.

This can involve a number of approaches:

Drive Communication Into the Open

One difference between an internal platform product manager and an external-facing PM is the collaboration.

If, for example, an external-facing PM were to encounter two sets of users who wanted different features, he wouldn't likely create a collaborative open conversations about the trade offs (I would suggest this would be a good, albeit untraditional and risky approach, that we see in open source or blockchain environments).

The Platform Product Manager, however, may be the one to frame the trade offs and bring the different stakeholders into a conversations.

Then share the progress of those decisions to the wider group of developers for awareness and input.

This depends on the culture of the company, of course. If the company prefers silos, this would not work. And the platform probably will ultimately fail no matter what the product manager wants to do.

Because the job is to drive communication to invite collaboration.

The job fails when there is a mandate.

Communication desires to drive Collaboration and Commitment is one of the ways to drive this impact.

  1. A Platform Team Product Manager Determines DevOps Success - The New Stack ↩︎

  2. A Platform Team Product Manager Determines DevOps Success - The New Stack according to 2023 State of Platform Engineering Report | Puppet by Perforce ↩︎

  3. A Platform Team Product Manager Determines DevOps Success - The New Stack ↩︎

  4. Do Infrastructure Teams Need Product Management? ↩︎