Michael has posted a great definition of the product manager role on his blog, Product Management and Product Marketing – A Definition. He covers a whole host of activities in six seperate areas. Some of the responsibilities, while not product management, are often the responsibility of the product manager. It’s a good real-world assessment of what product managers are often asked to do.
The six areas
- Market Research
- Product Definition and Design
- Project Management
- Evangelize the Product
- Product Marketing
- Product Life Cycle Management
Definitely part of the role of a product manager. This is where we determine what opportunities exist and document them. Analysis of the market identifies those problems worth solving. We disagree with Michael only in that we believe the MRD is a deliverable from this area, and not part of the next area.
Product Definition and Design
We see these as two distinctly different activities, as the nature of the work involved requires such different skillsets. The conversion of an MRD into a PRD is the process of determining which valuable problems should be solved in software. The application of interaction design and program design are completely distinct activities from this prioritization process. There was a heated debate a couple months ago across a few of the blogs in this space about the difference between requirements and design. We believe that combining them in the same area adds to the confusion, and would suggest splitting the area up into two areas.
Absolutely part of developing great software. Product managers are often asked to do this, but this area isn’t about deciding what to do, it’s about executing in the context of a decision. Michael’s point that product managers are often asked to do this is valid -but we believe that it falls in the “do more than your job” bucket, and should not be part of the canonical definition of product management.
As one of Micheal’s commenters points out, this role is often performed by a program manager, who is responsible for coordinating the efforts of the rest of the team to achieve the product manager’s vision. That’s how the responsibility is assigned at Microsoft, as the commenter points out. Scott Berkun, in The Art of Project Management, also with a background from Microsoft talks about the dual-nature role of program manager as well – part product manager and part project manager.
Evangelize the Product
We agree with Michael that the second most important part of a product manager’s role (after defining what the product should do) is getting everyone on board and excited about what it will do. One of the reasons this is so important is that it opens up avenues for two-way communication with customers. Evangelists aren’t corporate bullhorns – they apply listening skills not just to tailor the message, but also to adapt and adjust the product direction. This then sets the stage of iterative requirements elicitation and validation. And that’s why it is important that this be a product manager playing the role of evangelist.
Communication of delivery schedule isn’t really evangelism, but otherwise matches the rest of the characteristics of this type of communication. This feels to us more like it belongs in the project management area, as communication of project status is part of that role. But we like the consistency of roles and skills that we get from placing it in the evangelism area.
This is the creation of outbound messaging (the bullhorn). When there isn’t an explicit evangelism role, product marketing can provide a pretext for incremental market research. As Michael points out, this is primarily a communication role, not ideation, prioritization or organization.
Product Life Cycle Management
This is basically product portfolio management and strategy. Another analysis to add to Michael’s list – should we continue to invest in the software, or stop/minimize investment and milk it for whatever revenue we can get at a >90% profit margin?
Product managers have to be able to do just about everything. And the smaller the company is, the bigger the responsibility for the product manager. Great summary and classification, Michael!