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TL;DR: can an agency (i.e. the supplier) effectively provide the role and services of a product manager to their clients?

Short story long :) We are a mobile app development agency in central Europe with around 30 employees and we aim to define and sell this new service to our clients. I'm unsure if the person on our side should be called a product manager. It's more like a product consultant/product assistant. But I'll try to describe that person's role.

First, our vision is to get out of the subordination to our clients and have a stronger influence and impact on the products we build for them. This product manager should be a valuable partner and a trusted advisor to the clients.

The problem we identify in many projects is that they miss key answers that the product owner usually answers (like Why are we building this? Who will benefit from this? What is its value?). Our current model is:

Our Dev-team <- Our Project Manager <-> The Client

A newly suggested model is to insert one more role:

Our Dev-team <- Our Project Manager <- Our "Product Manager" <-> The Client

This new role is supposed to be the analyst of the client's ideas to avoid implementing anything the client comes up with. However, the clients believe they have their own PMs or POs (but in fact, a lot of times those people are not dedicated to that role, thus they do only part of that job). On the other hand, we do not want any "clash of PMs" :)

My question, in more detail, is:

  1. Can an agency provide such a product manager without a conflict of interests?
  2. Is there an established name for that role that fits the description?
  3. What could possibly be the key role and responsibilities of this person (while not conflicting with the client's role)?
  4. What experience or training would that person need to be qualified for this role?

Can you tell from your experience?

2 Answers 2

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  1. An agency can provide product management services, exactly in the same way it can provide project management services, design services, and other services.

    In fact some service companies have domain experts who have worked extensively on similar products, understand what users may need and value, as well as the pitfalls in user acceptance. Moreover they may master techniques to involve stakeholders to make decisions about the product. Customer companies might not have such a profile: it's always difficult enough to find users willing to contribute on the top of their daily job.

  2. Product manager?

  3. The key issue here is that a product manager of the client makes decision with economic consequence on the client (revenue stream related to the product, or cost of your development). Your product manager can't make these decisions on his/her own. First it might drive the costs of the customer, which are also your benefit, hence a clear conflict of interest. Second, imagine the consequences of wrong decisions:

    • What if it draws the company bankrupt? Do you really want to be liable for that?
    • What if users don't accept product? The customer will blame/sue your company for a decision made on your custmer's behalf.

    In conséquence, despite the name of "product manager", the service provider will more act as a service consultant, taking the small decisions with low risk, but involving the customer's stakeholders and getting their commitment to the proposed ideas.

    1. Product manager experience. Alternatively skills in business analysis (to understand the needs/expectations), and design thinking (to understand customer's desires/emotions and propose product ideas/solutions)
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I think the role is absolutely necessary but not one that can sit in your organisation for the reasons @Christophe has already given.

You need to think how you are position in the field, are you a software development agency or a product development agency ? If you are evolving towards a product development agency then your organisation, contract, marketing and value proposition needs to evolve too. This will eliminate some clients while attracting others. Its an organisation wide strategic decision.

I can totally see why you would want to supply that role having been on the client side and seen the consequences of managing suppliers badly.

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