What kind of product manager are you?

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If you would describe your product management role to your peer or to your colleagues, do you think they would agree?

When searching for product manager on Google, reading literature or reading on one of the various related forums (Linked In groups for example), it’s very obvious that product management is a very broad area of responsibility within companies, and that the title “Product Manager” is not really reveling your work tasks or responsibilities. I have been involved in product management for some time now, and I’m still learning to understand the skills required, or should I say; expected. By that I’m referring to both internal and external expectations. From what I have learned both by reading and by experience, employers and employees seldom have a clear picture of the role. This is confirmed by the various role descriptions I have found and also pointed out on Wikipedia; “Diverse interpretations regarding the role of the product manager are the norm. The product manager title is often used in many ways to describe drastically different duties and responsibilities.”

So what is the role by definition(s)? Here are some:

1) A product manager investigates, selects, and develops products for an organization, performing the activities of product management.

Read more: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Product_manager

2) Person responsible for overseeing all activities and functions associated with a particular product or product family. Also called brand manager in case of consumer goods or services.

Read more: http://www.businessdictionary.com/definition/product-manager.html#ixzz22GrTSH1n

3) Product managers are responsible for the overall and ongoing success of a product. Once the project to build the product is complete and the project manager has moved on, the product manager remains to manage the product through the entire lifecycle.

Read more: http://www.goodproductmanager.com/2007/09/24/product-management-vs-project-management/

It’s obvious just from reading the different definitions, that there is not 100% alignment in the view of the role. There seem also to be differences of the meaning between software and hardware industries. Furthermore, there is also variation of the product manager title. Different product management roles that I have found so far:

– Technical product Manager

– Commercial Product Manager

– Product Owner (Scrum)

Besides from the different roles of product manager, the same person often also acts as (or is confused or merged with):

  • Product Marketing manager; “A product marketing manager is always a member of the marketing organization, never of the development group, and is responsible for bringing the product to the marketplace and to the distribution organization. … It is a HIGHLY EXTERNALLY FOCUSED job.” (Crossing the Chasm, Geoff Moore)
  • Project Manager; “Project managers are responsible for the successful delivery of a project — a one-time endeavor with a goal, scope, deadline, budget, and other constraints. A project manager will work to align resources, manage issues and risks, and basically coordinate all of the various elements necessary to complete the project. As they relate to products, projects can be undertaken to build a product, to add new features to a product, or create new versions or extensions of a product. When the project is complete, the project manager will usually move to a new project, which may be related to a different product.”  (http://www.goodproductmanager.com/2007/09/24/product-management-vs-project-management/)
  •  Program Manager; “The role of the program manager has evolved today from managing multiple projects to implementing high level business strategy through an integrated portfolio of projects. This often involves multiple teams of professionals and executive level stakeholders. As a program manager you need to have a firm grasp of project management but also a set of business, marketing and leadership skills that differ vastly from the project manager.” (http://www.esi-intl.se/individuell_utveckling/vara_kurser/avancerade_kurser/jprogm.asp)

I believe it’s important, especially for someone in a product management role, to clarify what kind of product manager you are. It really doesn’t matter which one you are, perhaps it works fine with hybrids in some cases, as long this is what both you and the organization agrees on.  If not, the role risk to become so shuttered or overloaded, that not much true value is delivered to the organization. Value is delivered by a team, but what happens if the team members have different views and expectations on the collaboration with, and the deliverables from, a product management role.

My own tip to confused product managers, is that you go through your job description (if you have one), and get it confirmed by your peer that this is the right focus for your role. If you feel that expectations are not aligned with your own view or goals, create your own modified job description and discuss with your peer in what way maximum value is delivered by setting the right definitions and expectations.

I will end with a quote from Inspired: How to create products Customers Love, by Marty Cagan; “Too many product leaders spend their time on other activities, especially product marketing and /or project management. These activities are not a substitute for true product management.”

It would be interesting to read some comments on this topic.