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Cutting through product manager role confusion to create successful products
My mission is to inspire and equip product managers to have greater influence in their organizations and over product. I call this helping product managers to become product masters, and that is what both this podcast and the training I provide are about. Helping you make that move from product manager to product master is explored in this episode by considering:
- Various perspectives on product management,
- Responsibilities of the role, and
- How Agile practices are impacting the role.
Joining me for this discussion is Steve Johnson, who previously shared in episode 115 the 6 types of expertise product managers need.
Steve has been working within the high-tech arena since 1979 with experience in technical, sales, and marketing positions at companies specializing in enterprise and desktop hardware and software. His market and technical savvy allowed him to rise through the ranks from Product Manager to Chief Marketing Officer. Before founding Under10, his product management consulting company, he was a Pragmatic Marketing lead instructor for more than 15 years.
Summary of some concepts discussed for product managers
[2:34] How did you approach your research on the roles and responsibilities of product managers?
I took a page out of the product management playbook when I started my consulting company and researched the market to identify the need before I built anything. I interviewed more than 100 product leaders to ask them about the product management role in the agile environment. I found that product managers tend to be focused on the development and not on management or marketing. They were not clear on roles and responsibilities and the roles were being defined by people who didn’t have the job and priorities often overlapped. For example, people in an organization want product managers to be experts in customer needs but never leave the office to talk to them.
[7:15] What is the role of a product manager and how does that vary across organizations?
There is no good working definition for the role of a product manager across the board. My definition is that they create business systematically, or turn ideas into products systematically. In many places, those systems don’t exist so people are working around the clock to do their jobs and overcome the lack of process. It’s common for consultants to say a product manager is like a CEO of a product, but I prefer to think of a product manager as an orchestra director. When you’re leading 80 or 100 people, you need someone to keep time and make sure that each section is working with each other. The director doesn’t take over when there’s a problem, but he makes sure everyone else is ready to deal with them when they arise.
[14:09] How does product management differ from product marketing?
There’s a lot of crossover between the two and the titles are not consistent. I think about three types of work that need to be done: product growth, product planning, and strategy. Product growth is figuring out how to get more people to buy your product and that’s product marketing’s role. Product planning is figuring out what you’re going to build next and prioritize development work; that role is filled by a product owner or technical product manager. Strategy means figuring out what products you’re going to build and setting a roadmap for building them; this is the role of a strategic product manager. Product marketers often get pulled into the role of defining what the market is so they know who they are marketing to.
[19:45] What are the key responsibilities of a product manager?
We tend to see product management processes as linear, but they’re actually recursive. It’s not a line, it’s a wheel that you can jump into at many points along the way. One of those roles is to define the business, which includes the market, the personas, and the problems that customers have. From there, product managers work with development, sales, marketing, and finance to evaluate that opportunity and create a business plan for the idea. Once the idea is defined and approved, the product manager creates a roadmap. They articulate the stories and make sure the development team and the marketing team understand them throughout the process. Product management is about the problem, not the solution. The product manager’s role is to represent the market and be the customer’s voice in the room with developers, designers, and marketers.
[26:58]? How has Agile impacted the role of product managers?
Agile gives us the opportunity to build something, get feedback on it, and then build more based on that feedback. However, we’ve seen that development has gone Agile but no one else has, which puts product managers in a tough spot. Marketing still feels like they need to know the entire scope up front and that’s not possible with Agile. Product managers need to remember that a roadmap is not a commitment, it’s a plan. Things change along the way and the roadmap needs to accommodate it. In theory Agile works, but it doesn’t always necessarily work in practice. The most successful examples I heard from my 100 discussions were those that separated the product strategy and product planning role, what I would call a product manager and product owner.
- Steve’s company, Under10 Playbook
- Steve’s book, Turn Ideas Into Products
“With today’s methods, we can build the wrong product faster than ever.” -Steve Johnson
Thank you for being an Everyday Innovator and learning with me from the successes and failures of product innovators, managers, and developers. If you enjoyed the discussion, help out a fellow product manager by sharing it on social media.