A look at Platform Product Management

Many people talk about specialities in Product management, but only a few about Platform Product Management.

The first time I stumbled upon this term was an article from Marty Cagan and some other posts here and there. In Inspired and Empowered, there are mentions of what platform teams do and how to empower them. Immediately I became fascinated.

However, despite these product types’ fundamental importance, there is little discussed about Platform Product Management.

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What is a Platform Product?

Foremost, it is a product. “Something created and made available to somebody that brings value to customers/users“. 

Platform product managers are mainly enablers. They make the lives of other product teams easier. I am taking special care of not to mention engineers as customers of platform products. Because engineers are part of a product team, and there is also a product manager, and potentially designers and analysts. And when these engineers use the services built by the platform product, they develop their products. 

So, the platform team has three users leveraging the platform (the actual customer, solution PM, and developers). On top of that, sometimes platform teams have a business metric that they influence directly, like risk decision services, which in Fintech, have significant leverage on the company’s strategy and sustainability. Let’s look at it.

What is a Platform?

Let’s take a closer look at what platforms are. ThoughtWorks lists the following platform types:

  • Developer-focused infrastructure platform
  • Data science and ML platforms
  • Business capability platform

These platforms have different customers and value propositions:

  • Developer-focused infrastructure platform. This platform type focuses on internal development teams. Their primary value is to enable software engineers to spend more time on delivering business value and ease the deployment of solutions while maintaining security & compliance. 
  • Data science and ML platforms: in this second type of platform, the main focus is on data practitioners: data scientists, data engineers, analysts, quantitative risk analysts, etc., and their value proposition is to find, access, and understand data, its ability to experiment and analyse and the enablement of training and models deployment.
  • Business capability platform: the last of this list has as customers either external teams or downstream teams (customer-facing teams). Usually, this type of platform has concrete business objectives and metrics that frame the main problems this product team tries to solve.

As you can see, each is very different from the others, each having a concrete vision, strategy, customers, values and business objectives. 

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Platform as a product

digital platform is a foundation of self-service APIs, tools, services, knowledge and support, which are arranged as a compelling internal product. Autonomous delivery teams can make use of the platform to deliver product features at a higher pace, with reduced coordination

Martin Fowler

In Team Topologies, its authors, Matthew Skelton and Manuel Pais, define platform teams as grouping other team types that provide a compelling internal product to accelerate delivery by stream-aligned teams.

For platforms to deliver their maximum value, there must be a clear vision and strategic objectives for each platform team. These objectives are usually shared with other downstream product teams and combined with platform-only goals.

The game-changer here is applying product management to internal products. I want to emphasize that even when we have clearly defined what a platform is and how to build better platforms (as a product), the role of a product manager within a platform team is still loosely discussed. 

What does this mean for Platform PMs?

Platform teams need to run discovery in the company’s strategic themes and figure out how to enable other product teams to solve end-user problems. And the Platform PM is responsible for aligning product discovery with the objectives of the different product teams and the platform’s objectives.

This means that a platform product manager is responsible for continuously discovering the problems and initiatives downstream product teams are trying to tackle, defining the best way to enable them and on opportunities generated by the company and their platform strategies.

As you can imagine, if product management is not easy, being a platform product manager is no less. 

The context of each platform type sets quite specific domains behind every platform. This context would also change more on the business capability platforms, as this might offer a unique value proposition for each business. 

Platform product management is incredibly valuable. But it is essential to remember that the exposure these PMs have is different from what customer-facing product managers do; the way of impacting the business is different, and the value could be less perceived or not that easy to communicate. Platform PMs should focus on thinking strategically, on long-term impact and how to enable others to succeed. That should be their main drive.

They are responsible for building the right things right, for other teams to build the right things. Sounds complex? Check my following articles about it.

P.S. If you have any thought or feedback, just reach out. I am glad to talk about anything product management.

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