red horizontal rule

A View of Strategic & Tactical Product Management – How Bottle Rocket Adds Value in Your Product Development Journey

Published by 

Not all Product Managers are built the same. Which is a good thing since no clients’ (or organizations’) needs are alike. Because Product Managers have a wide range of capabilities and skillsets, it’s imperative to find the right match of Product Management expertise for each and every client challenge or need.

As our Product Management Practice has evolved over the last 5 years, we have learned a lot about how to best serve our clients and their unique needs. Though much of what felt like trial and error, we now have a very clear process for matching client needs with our team’s skillsets.

One model that we lean into to ensure we get the right match is Ravi Mehta’s Product Competency Model. This model is based on 12 product management skills that drive directly at the heart of any product need. We use this model to help us identify very early in any relationship the key requirements and focus areas that our client needs from our team.

In this article we discuss the various types of Product Management asks that we see from our widely varied clients and how we lean into the Product Competency Model to help us ensure we are building the most effective and well-rounded Product Management practice. This helps us focus our hiring efforts and helps us ensure we are bringing the right variety of talent that can bring the most value to our clients. We have the capacity and expertise to serve in a highly tactical way when needed but can also offer up our expertise when it comes to the highly strategic needs of our clients. It’s our job to be able to meet our client’s wherever they are and provide whatever type of support they need.

At Bottle Rocket, we have created six levels in our Product Management group that align to the Mehta model and have helped us ensure that we have the right level of expertise for each client ask that we encounter. For the purposes of this document, we will discuss five levels and how each level provides a specific level of tactical support, strategic support or a combination of both. Our more senior roles provide the higher level of strategic support while our more junior roles provide tactical support throughout an engagement. We believe impact can be delivered at all levels and we pride ourselves in our ability to match client needs with our various levels.

Our five levels internally are:

  • Group Product Manager
  • Principal Product Manager
  • Sr. Product Manager
  • Product Manager
  • Product Owner

In the sections below we will discuss each level and the various skillsets tied to Mehta’s model to further demonstrate the variance between tactical and strategic Product Management.

Digging into Mehta’s Model

In Mehta’s Product Competency model, he introduces 12 skills that Product Managers must master that are uniquely valuable to Product Management teams and clients. The 12 skills are organized into four areas:

  • Product Execution (the ability to build exceptional products)
  • Customer Insight (the ability to understand and deliver on customer needs)
  • Product Strategy (the ability to drive business impact via product innovation)
  • Influencing People (the ability to rally people around the team’s work)

Clearly that is a lot for any one person to learn. Thus, it makes sense to build teams of Product Managers that excel at the various parts all in their own ways. This allows for the utmost flexibility in matching Product Managers and customers.

Here are the 12 competencies as discussed in the Peak Product Management model:

  1. Product Manager Skills Overview Product Execution
    1. Feature SpecificationProduct Delivery
    1. Quality Assurance
  2. Customer Insight
    1. Fluency with Data
    1. Voice of Customer
    1. User Experience Design
  3. Product Strategy
    1. Business Outcome Ownership
    1. Product Vision & Roadmapping
    1. Strategic Impact
  4. Influencing People
    1. Stakeholder Management
    1. Team Leadership
    1. Managing Up

Now, let’s look at each of our five levels based on the above-mentioned skills.

When might you need a Group Product Manager?

Keywords: people managers, coaching, mentoring, relationships, scaling
Experts at: Product Strategy & Influencing People

If you are looking for assistance with team building and scaling your product team/organization, we will generally assign a Group Product Manager to your project. Our Group Product Managers typically lead 6-8 product managers and have experience in coaching and developing our teams internally. They also engage with clients on recruiting and onboarding practices, as well as providing recommendations on leveling roles and responsibilities with the client’s product leadership team.

Group Product Managers also excel at Product Strategy, where they work alongside our clients’ product leadership teams and other product managers to form longer-term product vision, strategy, and roadmaps. This is done in partnership with other team members across disciplines such as technology, experience design, and project management.

In addition, these team members are considered subject matter experts (SMEs) on various product management topics and typically assist with large scale product workshops such as product discovery, product visions, and strategy workshops. Group Product Managers will also assist clients’ product leaders with artifacts, materials, decks, templates etc. with the goal of influencing and informing senior stakeholder management and other team leadership roles.

If you need senior product strategy expertise, consultation around managing other product managers, exposure to various senior leadership, and expertise presenting and building relationships with key players in your organization, a Group Product Manager has the skills and experience to assist in this capacity.

When might you need a Principal Product Manager?

Keywords: strategy, planning, process improvement, product delivery
Experts at: Product Strategy & Influencing People

Principal Product Managers are similar in leveling as Group Product Managers. They are also highly experienced with Product Strategy engagements and have diverse experience in various industries and types of projects, as well as a keen knowledge of delivering products to market with speed.

Unlike Group Product Managers, Principal Product Managers are not people managers in our organization, but rather lend more support in the engagements by working closely with, mentoring, and coaching less experienced product managers (product owners or product managers) in product development and delivery. These team members also have a strong background and experience with tactical product delivery work.

If you are looking for highly experienced product strategy experts, that are also closely connected with delivery PODs that are working directly on the product, then a Principal Product Manager is the right fit for your engagement. An additional benefit of a teammate at this level is that they will ultimately help upskill other product managers along the way as they typically lead and facilitate workshops and activities that are part of the product development process. Principal Product Managers are hyper-focused on business outcomes and are committed to creating strategic impact based on clients’ direction. They will also assist in communicating out and up with key stakeholders in any organization, and, where applicable, establish new processes and repeatable templates.

When might you need a Sr. Product Manager?

Keywords: strategic & tactical, execution, velocity
Experts at: Product Strategy, Customer Insight & Product Execution

Sr. Product Managers are the perfect blend of strategy and tactical product management. Sr. Product Managers are often involved in initial formulation of the product strategy with many of our clients. They are a part of user and internal stakeholder discussions to understand business opportunities and customer/user problems, and they help to create solution hypothesis, look at research and data, and create strategic and tactical initiatives to build out roadmaps.

Sr. Product Managers are experts at product strategy, customer insights, and product execution (with support from Product Managers or Product Owners). These team members are often part of presentations to senior leadership regarding longer-term strategy and roadmaps and are close partners to our clients’ Sr. Product Managers, Group Product Manager or Product Directors. Our internal Sr. Product Managers work closely with in-house product professionals to create relevant and clear artifacts, decks, templates, processes, etc.

If you are looking for both tactical and strategic perspectives for your product needs, you might be looking for a Sr. Product Manager. Our Sr. Product Managers are generally allocated to projects alongside Associate Product Managers or Product Owners in larger programs. This allows them to operate at a strategic level when needed, but also easily switch to a more tactical level due to additional product capacity on engagements. This also gives our clients additional velocity to build and manage backlogs that aid in faster delivery.

When might you need a Product Manager?

Key words: tactical, execution, product planning, product delivery
Experts at: Product Execution & Customer Insights

Product Managers are key to engagements that need heavy product execution support, such as feature specification, product delivery and smoke testing. Product Managers also often assist with collecting customer insights alongside their experience design counterparts and are able to easily understand product analytics and build a story based on the data, all while incorporating the voice of the customer in the product planning process and sharing their feedback and input in the user experience design process. Product Managers typically own a specific product roadmap for a product area and will often assist direct product management counterparts on the client side (e.g., Sr. Product Manager) with strategic planning.

We normally find Product Managers are best suited for two types of product development opportunities.

  1. Large scale product delivery projects that have a number of complexities and nuances to address. One or more Product Managers may be coupled together and/or work alongside a more senior teammate(s) to develop and update a roadmap because of changes in business priorities, resource changes, changing in requirements, user feedback, etc.
  2. Delivery projects that are highly tactical in nature. In most instances, the client’s product team will provide strategic direction and we will partner to help with execution focused work such as collecting detailed requirements, collaborating with product designers and solution architects to develop wireframes and solution approaches, breaking down the requirements to small chunks of work, creating a backlog items, and conducting sprint level prioritization and refinement. Product Managers will partner and assist with sprint planning and, as needed, will unblock developers and engineering leads during the sprint.

When might you need an Associate Product Manager?

Key words: execution, tactical, backlog
Experts at: Product Execution

Product Owners are great at feature definition, backlog management, driving the team towards consistent and efficient velocity, and involved in documenting customer insights gathered from analytics. Product Owners also help with sprint planning, prioritization, and refinement as needed.

These tactically focused individuals often come with experience in product delivery on other projects or product development opportunities. They are great support to the QA team and assist with reporting bugs, writing bug tickets, and smoke testing as needed.

Additionally, Product Owners also work closely with engineers to help them better understand functional and the technical requirement in tickets. This allows for better quality delivery at the end of each sprint. They also take part in many planning conversations where the client and other team members are discussing strategy or collaborating on defining the user journey. These are important inputs for Product Owners to capture functional requirements for feature delivery, product enhancements or bug fixes.  

In closing

Product management is not a “one size fits all” role. Because product management needs can vary greatly, it’s important to build a diverse in-house team that can partner with our clients to assist on varying levels of both tactical and strategic support. By building and maintaining an expert team that is broad in our expertise, we can deliver value faster and in a more effective fashion throughout an engagement.

We enjoy working with organizations of all shapes and sizes and are always ready for our next challenge. We are excited to help companies build internal rigor around all of the competencies described in the Mehta Model and are always just a phone call away for any of your product management needs.


Unlock Growth
red horizontal rule

Experience experts weigh in on their top strategies for our most successful clients.