Is Being A Product Manager At Coke The Real Thing?

by drjim on November 4, 2008

Coke Product Managers Have Over 450 Different Products To Manage

Coke Product Managers Have Over 450 Different Products To Manage

So I just happened to be leafing through an issue of Information Week and I ran across an article that was talking about how IT is run over at Coke. In a nutshell, the article was a glowing review of the changes that Jean-Michel Ares has been making. However, what really caught my eye was a discussion about how Coke is running their product manager activities. It turns out that Coke currently has over 450 separate brands including Coke, Diet Coke, Minute Maid, Dasani, etc. Just how can product managers at Coke possibly manage so many different products globally?

Perhaps because of the IT focus of the article, there was a lot of discussion about an application that Coke has implemented to help it track all of it’s ongoing projects. They selected an application called Clarity from CA (are they still in business?) It appears as though they have mated this app with an Oracle DB and now use it to track all of their development projects. What was interesting is that Coke appears to use a gate process as their project management process that most companies use as a way to remind themselves to kill a project if market conditions have changed – just getting the green light for a project does not mean that it will ever see the light of day.

Coke is in the process of moving to a new way of managing their products (product managers pay attention!) They are getting ready to implement a new application called the Common Innovation Framework. The reason that Coke gives for doing this is that they want to provide a global view into their product pipeline. It appears as though they are trying to set up a form of knowledge sharing in the hopes that product managers in different countries will search for brand or beverage ideas that worked well in other countires. Oh yeah, they are also hoping that if they have duplicate efforts going on at the same time, this application will allow those to be spotted and combined.

It appears as though the future that Coke’s Product Managers are working towards will allow them to quickly identify customer’s changing tastes, rapidly introduce new products, and kill off products that are no longer meeting customer’s needs. Interestingly enough, Coke views Japan as being the leading market for new products because their consumers quickly get bored with existing products and are always looking for something new. As products die in Japan, they get pulled there and can be introduced in new markets.

It sure looks like there is no shortage of information available to Product Managers at Coke. The entire company has standardized on SAP’s ERP application and they have even been able to extend it down into parts of their bottler and distributor network. The big challenges at Coke appear to be that the costs of raw materials are rising at the same time that consumption of their flagship product, Coke, is declining due to changing consumer tastes. What this all means is that Product Mangers at Coke need to move quickly. Coke has a number of competitors: Pepsi, of course, but also 100’s of local brands that have been fine tuned to meet local tasts.

We all know that relations between departments are never perfect, no matter what people tell magazine reporters. I suspect that the 450+ Product Managers at Coke had their own thoughts about the new product tracking applications that were put in. However, Coke is a successful company that has very deep pockets. One can only hope that at least some of their Product Managers have been able to build bridges to the IT, bottling, and regional teams in order to simplify and smooth out the challenges associated with trying to “… teach the world to sing…”

What do you think that it would be like to be a Product Manager at Coke? Do you think that Product Managers have an easier or harder job to do than Product Managers at other companies? Do you think that things will move even faster for Coke Product Managers as they move into the future? Leave me a comment and let me know what you are thinking.

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{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Mac Mohan November 4, 2008 at 12:39 pm

Hi,
I am a regular reader of your blog, and would love to know your opinion on whether a group of product managers should be managed by a project manager??

Appreciate your time and comments

Reply

Dr. Jim Anderson November 4, 2008 at 12:54 pm

Mac: first off, thanks for being a regular reader! Secondly, the answer is “it depends”. I’ve had it both ways with mixed results. Having a product manager be the boss for other product managers has the advantage that he/she should know what they are going through (no respect, changing requirements, etc.) and should be able to support them.

The danger here is that a boss who was once a product manger may not be able to keep his / her hands off of your product – “do it this way”. Micromanaging is a real possibility.

I think that the key to success is to make sure that a product manger who is going to mange product managers has so much to do that they can’t interfere with the day-to-day product management activities. Then this could be a great way to organize a product management team…!

Reply

David Locke November 6, 2008 at 5:27 am

Product managers should be managed by someone with a strategic, rather than a tactical view. A product strategist is the usual owner, if not the company executives, of the cross product integration that a project manager wouldn’t necessarily see. Project managers would treat a product manager as their customer. Product managers would be too busy to do the project manager’s job.

Since the product manager is the CEO of the product, their scope is wider than the project manager, whose scope would be limited to development. The product manager’s scope runs across the entire enterprise with development being only one amoung many that the product manager must interact with.

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Dr. Jim Anderson November 6, 2008 at 10:11 am

David: bingo! Thinking about a Product Manager as the CEO of the product is the key – your career lives & dies based on the success of your product. Project managers don’t live with the same risk – there is always another project for them to work on…

Reply

Mac Mohan November 6, 2008 at 12:20 pm

Thanks for all your views, but what i have observed is sometimes the men at top start seeing product management team having more time as the release gets half way done.. I guess the view is requirement elicitation is done, bringing cross functional teams to get those requirements imbibed is done.. so our product managers should have time.. so why not find out by scheduling their activities

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