PF#57: Everyone has a role in The Whole Product

Mapping the Whole Product concept to typical organizational roles

A little while ago, I wrote about The Whole Product Concept and how thinking about this can be a powerful perspective for product management.

At its heart, the concept says that a product is more than just a set of functionality delivered in an application. It is the sum total of the experiences that customers have directly and indirectly with that product.

Often the discussion I have with Product Leaders is that no single person is responsible for this whole product. Yet, on the other hand, we have people across the organization wanting to get more involved in product.

As I was thinking about these two scenarios, it occurred to me that connecting all of these stakeholders to their role in The Whole Product can start to address both issues.

On the one hand, stakeholders can learn of the impact they have already on the product. On the other, it enables more people to standup and own their piece of the puzzle. Combined, this moves the organization towards Whole Product thinking for the benefit of the customer.

It is the job of the Product Leader to evangelize and coalesce the organization behind the Whole Product.

Mapping Roles to The Whole Product

Everyone in the organization has a role in The Whole Product that is experienced by the customer. This feels somewhat like saying “everyone is in sales”, but still, I do believe it.

Core Product Team

There is a group of people that focus that vast majority of their time on working on improving the product and the value it provides to customers. This team, the Core Product Team, is usually comprised of the Product Manager, UX Designer, and Engineers.

They are most directly responsible for the specific functionality of the product, how well it is designed, and its overall quality.

Depending on the organization, and its go-to-market motion, they may have a significant role in setting customer expectations for what is in the product and how it should be expected to work. For example, if a company uses a freemium or trial subscription model, the product team will have a significant role is setting expectations for continued use.

If the organization is more sales led, the Expected product may also be the domain of others like Sales and Product Marketing. These teams often shape customer expectations of the product before they get to actually use it.

Augmented Product Team

While the Core Product Team is focused on the product every single day, the Augmented Product Team is providing a tremendous amount of value-add to customers beyond the software offering itself.

Key stakeholders in the Augmented Product Team include Sales, Product Marketing, Business Development, Customer Success, and Subject Matter Experts. Let’s take a look at the value to customers each may provide.

  • Sales & Account Management - Help customers see potential business value from leveraging a product and understand what the experience will be like working with your organization. Sometimes, this may be by connecting prospects with existing customers where they may gain insights into industry best practices.

  • Business Development - This role varies but often BD is charged with solution partnerships to help extend the value proposition of the product. This is often done in concert with Product Management where they are constantly looking to find innovative ways to add value to the product where the company is not directly investing themselves. This adds direct benefit to customers by added valuable features or reducing the cost of integrated solutions.

  • Product Marketing - Like sales, PMM, may help customers envision where they can get value. Through content marketing, events, and community management, customers can learn how to leverage the product and how to manage processes related to the product.

  • Customer Success - Whether assisting with on-boarding, training, or answering how-to questions in support, many products are nearly worthless without this value add.

  • Subject Matter Experts - These unusual creatures :) often float in the territory between go-to-market, market analysis, and product definition. Their domain expertise is critical to helping direct research, advise best practices to customers, and help ensure key features are effectively communicated. In many organizations, SMEs are made directly available to customers for advice and feedback as well. This is a clear product value-add.

While all of these stakeholders are acting as an extended part of the product, they also form a critical conduit for feedback. This feedback drives a better future core product: Sales tells us what prospects find critical; PMM keeps tabs on competitor positioning; and CS tells us about on-boarding challenges.

Whole Product Team

Finally, we have people that seem far removed from the product but very much shape both the offering and the perception of the offering that customers end-up buying.

The Potential Product, is not just what it is today, but what it can be for customers when they are getting the most from it, and what how it will change things for the better in the future.

Internal stakeholders added value to the Potential Product:

  • CEO - Communicates relentlessly about the better future based on where the product and business are going. Prospects want to be on this ride.

  • Board of Directors - Especially in startups, guides the organization through obstacles and toward optimal investment decisions. Done well, outcomes for the company should be aligned with those for their customers.

  • Corporate Marketing - Builds a pipeline of the right type of customers. By keeping focus in messaging, this ensures that product investments don’t need to splinter into too many directions. They often nurture relationships with industry analysts that provide key market insights back to the product team.

  • HR - All about getting the right team together and helping build an innovative product culture. This is critical to ensuring the future can be continuously brighter for existing customers.

Finally, there is a piece of the Potential Product, that is buoyed through the partners an organization keeps. These may be channel partners that supply critical value-added services and support. They may also be data and technology partners that enable your product to provide greater value.

Through partnering with the right external parties, customers can gain significant pass-through value in the product in a seamless manner.


The bottom line here is that every stakeholder in the organization plays a role in the value created and delivered to the customer. Sometimes, this value is directly in the core product offering, but often times it extends well outside of it.

Each of these stakeholders should be aware of the important part they play in providing this valuable Whole Product to the customer. The person most directly responsible for this Whole Product is often the Head of Product for the company or a particular product area.

As this Head of Product defines and rallies the entire organization around a clear Vision and Product Strategy, it empowers all of these other stakeholders to drive it forward — for the benefit of the customer.