Recently I was asked “What should a product manager do? on Quora and the answers I received were really interesting.
Read on to see what people thought (including my opinion):
Carlos Gonzalez de Villaumbrosia
As a Product Manager, you’re in the intersection between software engineering, UX design, and digital marketing. You don’t need to be the best at everything, but you need to know enough to feel confident with connecting with those groups. A product manager is a person in between software engineers, UX designers, and digital marketers in order to build digital products like websites or mobile apps.
There are three main skills that PM’s need:
Industry domain. You need to know a lot about a specific product or a specific industry even if you haven’t worked in product management in that industry.
Technical background. You don’t have to know how to code (if you do that’s a huge bonus). You have to be comfortable enough talking with your software engineers on every single level.
Communication. As a PM you need to know how to communicate your ideas to engineers, designers, stakeholders and a bunch of other people. You are going to be communicating to others or influencing others so they can execute.
A product manager should understand their product/service very well and constantly test and test it over and over again. However, it’s just a prerequisite, not the most vital one.
Most people focus only on the product itself and forget that they need to build a business system. The reality is that there are unlimited ideas, millions of entrepreneurs with products or services to offer but only few can succeed in creating an excellent system which secures what they have in hands.
A business system requires time and people’s effort. It might take 3 or 5 years or even more than a decade. The good news is that we don’t need to see the whole staircase, we just need to take our first steps. Baby or small steps will consolidate the foundation for the system. Let’s start by asking a question “Can you systemize your product or service?”
I recommend 7P principle:
- Problem: What is the problem with your product or service? Can you give a solution to it?
- Priority: We might encounter a lot of problems and sometimes we really get overwhelmed if we don’t know how to prioritize things.
- Plan: You should really stick to your plan and stay focused to get it done.
- Process: This is very IMPORTANT. A detailed process reduces arising errors and also increases your performance professionally.
- People: This is the most DIFFICULT thing, the best manager is not the smartest, the best manager is the one who can work with different people and make them become a core team with high spirit and responsibility.
- Policy: It acts like the law. The law here is a system of rules that are created and enforced through the leader to regulate member’s behavior. People contribute good work should deserve a good treat, and those who have poor performance should go with some criticism or even penalties.
- Product: Review constantly what is created. A good product should be acknowledged by how customers welcome it and how much they are willing to pay. In short, your product should be acknowledged through money.
There is still a lot more to learn. But as a manager/ a leader, we should take action and commit ourself to stick on the way to successfully establish a business system.
Fulfill the strategic directives of upper management.
Typically this will mean one of
- increasing market penetration
- increasing revenue
- increasing profit
- increasing customer satisfaction
You will note that all of these will mean balancing the needs of
- Management (who want everything yesterday and have no money to spend)
- Development (who say they never have enough time and they have too much on their plate already)
- Customers (who, no matter what you do, will still have 10 things on their Top 10 Lists)
- Marketing (who believe that they know every answer to every question, but in truth are your allies).
Your mantra should be this: “This product will be based on three factors: Price, Delivery Date, and Quality. Pick any two.”
For the most part, a well-run engineering team by a development lead or an engineering manager should be capable of delivering products and be able to tell the product manager what can be reasonably delivered. A good relationship gets you great answers and a more open transparent environment lets people undo a lot of the usual “padding” given to answers to avoid egg on face issues (like accidentally over-committing and then having to retract).RELATED: How can I find freelance product management jobs?
Having this established as your baseline, the product manager then is to figure out what the engineering team is supposed to deliver. How this is accomplished is up to the product manager as every industry has different tools used to figure out what needs to happen.
Do you need to satisfy internal customers? Then, you can go up and figure out exactly what they need.
Do you need to satisfy external customers? Then, you may conduct user groups, demos, presentations, product deep dives, surveys, market data or customer feedback.
How formal do you need to be in order to ensure you have the space necessary to deliver a product? Some external customers or internal teams can demand a lot of paperwork and traceability for political reasons, product managers should make sure there is a clean well proven (many models pre-exist) documentation of requests and functional requirements.
Summarizing, a product manager:
- Researches possible product features or whole products based on customer/market needs
- Works with an engineering team to develop a plan to bring that feature into this world (agreeing on expectations and process but to be fluid and respect each person to do their part)
- Ensure that the product under their purview is on track at all times to handle current needs and to predict future needs
Also as an aside, a product manager DOES NOT:
- Meticulously calculate burn rates or micro-manage engineering resources; respect people to do their task
- Project manage; for the most part, many areas are self-running
Product managers provide the answer to the question of “what to build” for an engineering team
Myself: David Fradin
I get this question all the time from my students. I also did some research based on my management experience and training in interpersonal and organizational behavior. Much of what many say a product manager should do is based upon how it was done at some other organization or how it has always been done. As a result, I have written a modern and effective job description for a product manager.
While working on my book entitled “Building Insanely Great Products”, I had a wonderful opportunity to have lunch with my old friend and fellow Hewlett-Packard product marketing manager Chris Kocher. Chris and I worked on the same product management group in HP’s Networking Division and went through the same training. Chris said that when he moved over to a VP position at Symantec, he found they lacked the product lifecycle stages and product management processes he had while at HP.
So he brought them over.
This is a classic example of how product management and product marketing roles and responsibilities have been handed down from one company to the next and sometimes without consideration of how market conditions may have changed and/or may be different.
Like HP, Symantec has been a pretty successful company–in great part due to great product management and product marketing management.
In my travels and reviews of product management job descriptions, it seems most were written based upon “hand me down” descriptions and, as a result, have the product and people failure written all over them. Sometimes little consideration of how market conditions may have changed and/or may be different. Or the “recruiter” is unfamiliar with the role or has recruited in the past with the handed down job description. In other cases, the recruiter or hiring manager does a web search and grabs another “hand me down” job description. Not a good way to long-term success for the person being hired or for the product.
That is why many product management job descriptions mix the roles with product marketing management, project management, user experience design and product architect making it nearly impossible for the product manager to succeed.
So I have taken the time to think through what the Product Manager’s Role and Responsibilities should be based on what a company must do for their product to succeed and not based upon “hand me down” job descriptions.
Before I go into what a is a good Product Manager job description, let me critique a few current job descriptions from companies that are searching right now. I have provided a link to the job offer so you can compare what they are saying to my critique. Or skip the analysis and go to the bottom of this post for the conclusions.
This is a really good job description. It talks about working with cross-functional teams, driving requirements, executing product strategy and so forth. But it also calls for supporting merchandising and promotion. I argue the latter is what a Product Marketing Manager is supposed to do. And in a company the size of Western Digital, merchandising and promotion are clearly an outbound role. It is very hard to successfully do both inbound and outbound activities.RELATED: Our product life cycle management doesn’t seem to be doing that well, how can we assess it?
Here, too, under the title of product manager, the successful candidate must do both roles.
This job description pins activities as outbound. Right on. But. It calls for the product marketing manager to “Develop product positioning”. I argue that is the job of the product manager and should be done as part of the product strategy. All too frequently a product is developed and thrown over the wall to product marketing or marketing, and if they then have to figure out how to position it, it is usually too late. The correct flow is to understand what your customer does follow by the value proposition being offered in comparison to the competition which then leads to the positioning.
Here Skava has the “Senior” product marketing manager reporting to the Director of Marketing which I argue is wrong. The senior means they are strategic in nature and if they report to a Director level then they will be on the same level as all the other marketing people implementing the marketing plans. It might work if the marketing team will take direction from the Senior Product Marketing Manager but if they don’t, an integrated, comprehensive strategy will likely be poorly implemented. Especially if this position does not control the product’s marketing budget. Which it probably does not.
Very well written. Reports to the VP of Product Management. Clearly, this company understands the correct and most effective roles. It says “communicate the value proposition” because, hopefully, the product manager has developed said value proposition.
Here the YuMe folks are using the position title for product marketing manager to cover both it and product manager. Depending on the workload, it might be difficult for one person to do both jobs.
A nearly perfect job description. However, he/she should not be “defining…product strategies”. Helping the product manager, perhaps? Likewise “helping” with product positioning.
Another nearly perfect job description. But. This job description, like the others, calls for product marketing to develop positioning. Good positioning work takes a lot more than what is understood here.RELATED: Spice Catalyst’s Online Courses Affiliate Program: Earn 40%!
This is everything AND project management! One of the deviations of product management over the years has been to slide into “proJect” management. I spell proJect with a capital “J” because some confuse the roles of being a product manager with that of a project manager. Cisco frequently calls their product managers project managers. Sometimes some companies even push product managers into user interface design. I trained one of the largest banks in the world in product management and product marketing management. They were also responsible for wire diagrams. Yahoo calls them Program Managers.
I argue that one person, especially in a large company, can NOT do product management, product marketing management, AND project management and/or user experience/interface design, and/or program management effectively.
The “hand me down” job descriptions typically:
- Mix the roles of product management and product marketing management such that it becomes a nearly impossible job. The birth of product management came from Procter and Gamble as Brand Management and enhanced by HP. See the history of product management here.
- Sometimes includes the additional roles of Project Management and/or user experience design and/or program management
- With the addition of very complex Social Media Marketing Planning, the role gets even more complex.
- Tends to be written from an MBA-style point of view or technical point of view is effectively ignoring what people actually “do”. MBA’s tend to focus on “markets” whether they exist or not. (See my post on “Get Market Segmentation Right“) Technologists tend to focus on technology looking for a problem to solve.
- Do not give the product manager the “authority” of having a budget, which forces them to gauge their success based upon their leadership, negotiating, persuasion and communications skills–not their product management skills. At Procter and Gamble, the Brand Manager had budget authority. Somehow that has been lost over the years.