Product Manager Role Definition

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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

  1. Market Research
  2. Product Definition and Design
  3. Project Management
  4. Evangelize the Product
  5. Product Marketing
  6. Product Life Cycle Management

Market Research

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.

Project Management

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.

Product Marketing

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?

Conclusion

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!

10 thoughts on “Product Manager Role Definition

  1. In my company 1,2,4,5 are the main responsibilities with heavy involvement in 6. You are right in splitting #2 up into two distinct categories. While a product manager can contribute to R&D design, IMHO, the product managers job is to validate designs with the customer base.

    Being a product manager was a very satisfying experience. I recommend that any technical person with people skills and a penchant for communication try it out.

  2. Hey Deepak, thanks for the comments (and continued reading!).

    Sounds like your company has a pretty rational approach. And I definitely agree with you about #2 – the hard part for me is that I grew up in a consulting/development/presales/design environment, and really like that stuff. So I have to make a concerted effort to put it all in the right ‘bucket’.

    Scott

  3. Where do I find you talented product management people? We search online through a variety of sources, job boards, Monster, Dice. Is there a “best place” to find good product managers who might be interested in a hardware/software company in Connecticut? Contact Carrie Pazda at Carrie.Pazda@gerberscientific.com.

  4. Good luck in the hunt Mike, and thanks for reading and asking!

    My experience has been that head-hunters and word-of-mouth are the most effective ways to find someone good. Good people are more likely to be happy and focused on their current products, and I would expect that larger percentage of good product managers to not be actively looking / posting a resume. There are exceptions, of course, and timing – a great product manager may have a company fail/downsize/merge underneath her, but she won’t be on the market for long.

    I wish there were a place where we all hung out – hopefully Tyner Blain is becoming that – but we’ve got a lot more growth to achieve that – we only have a couple thousand page views a day right now.

    Good luck again!
    Scott

  5. dear sir,

    I am taking up a position as Product Head. May I request for your guidelines to be successful.

    Best Regards,

    Kamalnath

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  9. How would you characterize the intersections between product managment, product marketing and sales enablement and execution? I’m looking for great resources to help bridge this gap most effectively.

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