The pyramid model & what it means for PM focus

In journalism, one of the first things writers learn is the inverted pyramid. The inverted pyramid reinforces the concept that news articles need to begin by focusing on the critical, weighty aspects of the story first: who? what? when? where? why? After that, they can expand upon additional details, add more color, and eventually cover other related background info.

Why does this matter? #

The inverted pyramid serves 2 key purposes: 1) it ensures that a reader who starts the story and leaves it at any point will garner the most important facts first and 2) it ensures operational efficiency because editors - if pressed for space - should easily be able to lop off the end of any given article with no fear of cutting out the most pertinent facts. Failure to follow the inverted pyramid model is where the term “bury the lead” comes from.


In product management, it’s the opposite. #

Focus is still the goal but the model is the reverse of the inverted model - aka a right side up pyramid. The PM pyramid model depicts 1) the organizational structure and 2) the PM as the focal point for product vision. PMs operate in an environment where they are lesser portion of each cross functional team member ratio. For example, it’s not uncommon for there to be 7 engineers for each PM, 2-3 marketing and designers for each PM, and then a slew of sales & support for each PM. If you add that all up, your product team structurally looks like this:

Given the structural reality and that PMs are “the keeper” / champion of the product vision, this has big implications for how PMs operate on a daily basis. Specifically, it highlights the need for PMs to demonstrate 10x the focus of any other member. Good PMs are like bowling “bumper” lanes - they narrow the field of vision and course correct the team to make sure everyone is connecting for strikes / spares / or at least a solid 7.

If an engineer loses focus, he/she will build something off strategy for a few hours or for a day. If a designer loses focus, you’ll get some throw-away PSDs or maybe some funny fodder for posters. But if a PM loses focus, it will force multiply throughout the entire organization. Bad PMs lack focus and thrash the team around as they swivel from concept to concept, rudderless:


No sane PM will argue that focus isn’t important, but the best PMs understand why PM focus is structurally imperative and are rigorous about maintaining it.


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