0
Context

I am myself working as a machine learning engineer within a small team, without any product/project manager. So the idea is, I was supposed to deploy some machine learning models which enhance our product offerings, and check the impact via some product metrics (e.g. transactions completed). So far we see a very healthy lift in transactions in the product category where it is deployed.

Problem

When I presented the results to the senior management, one business guy suddenly said, even though my machine learning model shows the lift in the category where it is deployed (let's say product A), it is apparently cannibalising from another product B from the same company (my employer).

And he says, because of this, my metric should account for impacts on both products A and B, to see whether the company is doing better as a whole.

Question

Have experienced product managers faced a scenario or question like this? How do you handle this?

To me (who is more like code and engineering guy rather than product, stakeholder manager) it seems non-sensical. If my machine learning system is in charge of improving product A, then should not product A's metrics be judged by itself, instead of muddling the water with product B (from same company)?

In other words, should not product A's metric decide my performance and bonus, rather than having to compensate for product B's incompetence.

I know cannibalisation is the industry term for two competing products from the same company. But in this instance, it's not just competing product, but seems competing teams within the company, right? So what's the correct term to describe this scenario and how do you handle it?

1 Answer 1

1

Product Portfolios Must be Managed

You're fundamentally asking the wrong question. From a product management point of view, you're doing the right thing in making a good product with a solid market fit. However, from a more business-centric point of view, you need to consider the overall account portfolio in making strategic decisions about how to properly balance your product portfolio.

If your job isn't portfolio management or strategic planning, then politely redirect your unhappy internal competitor to the right person within the company to make strategic decisions. On the other hand, if you are in a strategic role or doing portfolio management, you have to basically look at the overall picture.

For example, assume you have only the two products, and no other considerations. You need to ask questions like:

  1. What's the overall ROI of the entire portfolio?
  2. Which product currently generates more profit?
  3. Which product will, over time, generate more profit?
  4. If Product A and B compete for the same market, which is a better fit for the portfolio?
  5. If Product A and Product B can be differentiated, can the portfolio gain market share and/or higher profits?
  6. If Products A and B can't coexist profitably within the portfolio, which product should remain and which should be removed from the portfolio?

In other words, if you treat multiple products or product lines as a diversified portfolio, you must occasionally rebalance the portfolio based on risk appetite, market conditions, and strategic objectives. As a concrete example, Cisco sells many different types of routers and switches. They generally serve different markets and offer different feature sets. This represents a portfolio of products, but if they find that their products directly compete then they will have to make a business decision about which of the competing products to keep and which to deprecate.

Set the personality issues aside. Treat is as a business question, and either refer the question to the right person if that's not you, or present a financial case for the related business lines and see which product provides the stronger offering.

See Also

This related answer has a section on rebalancing portfolios that might be at least tangentially relevant to your use case. You don't have a "right or wrong" problem here; you have a balancing problem, and the portfolio most likely needs to be rebalanced. This answer explains how that relates to product management, but the other answer may be useful in understanding more about how rebalancing works to support defined business objectives.

4
  • Thanks a lot. Yes, to add further context, I am the technology lead/architect overseeing part of the engineering team, I am not a strategic decision maker about product portfolio management, but sort of managing product A here since it's a small company that cannot afford dedicated product managers. So from what you say, it seems the question should be addressed even at a higher level than an individual product manager on how to resolve the conflicts between A and B?
    – Della
    Commented Apr 16 at 4:03
  • 1
    @Della Yes. This is a strategic decision for the company. In a smaller company, the COO, CFO, or CMO (if you have one) might make the decision. In any case, I'd treat this as above your pay grade, or as an opportunity to learn and grow beyond the purely technical. In either case, you are not really empowered to decide which product the company should stand behind or dedicate its resources to. Refer it to someone who is so empowered, and make your best case to that person for why you think your product might be the better option.
    – Todd A. Jacobs
    Commented Apr 16 at 4:25
  • Thanks, if it is not a big trouble (you answered my original question already), may I ask if there is any documented and publicly available case study on how any established brand (Fortune company with some name recognition) handled this scenario, that I can cite as a standard (something akin to how documentations on technology infrastructure management or code standard from Google become industry standard)? I mean, I cannot cite a stackexchange answer directly, but even your own published article or blog will be great if you can link.
    – Della
    Commented Apr 16 at 4:34
  • 1
    @Della This is a question I'd ask of Perplexity.AI, which is a good engine for this kind of reference search. Portfolio and product management certainly have books on related topics, but a rather small percentage in comparison to the project managemen field. My answer was based on over 30 years of experience doing this sort of work; I can't do a better job than an AI reference engine, but can point you generically at the Harvard Business Review or blogs like IS Survivor by Bob Lewis as general reference material.
    – Todd A. Jacobs
    Commented Apr 16 at 22:36

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.