Product Marty Cagan

Funnels vs. Umbrellas

In my last newsletter I wrote about Stakeholder Management.  That article seemed to strike a chord with many people.

One person sent me a quote that is attributed to Todd Jackson of Facebook, which is probably one of the best lines I’ve seen regarding product in a long time: “You can be either a shit funnel or a shit umbrella.”

There is a lot of truth to this sentiment.  In my earlier article I explained how this responsibility for managing stakeholders falls on the shoulders of the product manager.

What I didn’t call out explicitly is that especially in large companies, the amount of various forms of requests can be staggering.  It usually comes from well-meaning people around the company just trying to do their jobs, but if you view your role as the funnel for all these requests, then the result to your product will almost certainly be death by a thousand cuts.

Moreover, another way of describing the problem of Product Management as a Service Organization is as a Funnel model.

In the Umbrella model, which is what I believe is absolutely necessary for success, you have a critical role in protecting the product, the team and your customers from these well-intentioned but harmful forces.  Now, please don’t misunderstand.  Not all requests are harmful.  Some will help, and many won’t matter one way or the other.  So you’ll need to pick your battles.  For those battles worth fighting, the techniques I described in my earlier article are intended to help you do this in a constructive and effective way.

That said, in truth, in many organizations, there is just no way for the product manager to provide that umbrella without the very active support of his or manager.  This, however, requires a strong product leader.

And this is a big reason why, in so many organizations, success really boils down to the leaders of the product organization.  In upcoming articles, I intend to talk more about these leaders, and the critical difference between management and leadership.