Training Banner

Thursday, September 25, 2014

A New Definition of Product Management

As a recent thread in a very large product management group on LinkedIn ("So what do you do exactly?") demonstrated (with over 400 responses), we as a community have a bit of difficulty agreeing on what it is we do. We very often hear that PMs are "mini-CEO's". While it's a nice idea and somewhat captures the broad, diverse nature of our responsibility, in my experience, a few direct questions are enough to demonstrate that most product managers are NOT really CEO-like, e.g., "How much budget authority do you have?"

While I understand ours is a nebulous craft, I'm concerned that overstating what we do does little to improve our credibility (and let's face it, in general, credibility is an issue in our profession). At the same time, we have no reason to be coy and understate the critical role many of us play in ensuring the success of our products and thus the company we work for.

After careful consideration, I'll propose a definition, or at least a framework for a definition of product management, that I think is at once accurate (not overstated) yet broad enough to underscore the criticality of product management to successful product development. My definition is based on a simple, intuitive paradigm that was used at one of my previous employers. We often spoke about the people responsible for getting the product "on the shelf" and those responsible for getting it "off the shelf" (and the need for these folks to stay in sync!). The latter referred primarily to marketing, sales and professional services. That left, in effect, product management accountable for getting the product on the shelf. We all know that things are never that well delineated in the life of product managers, and clearly, product managers have a vested interest in making sure a product sells. But, in my career, the lion's share of my time was spent making sure the right product got on the shelf at the right time at a cost that supported our business goals. I was keenly interested in how our product was positioned, how sales were going, with customer support issues etc., but cannot honestly say that I was accountable for these activities. For example, I could try to influence sales planning (and did), but was not at the table when incentives were being defined or sales campaigns were being planned. Other PMs have different experiences, but I've seen very little evidence of broad involvement by product managers in the activities I mentioned (and many others I didn't).

So there your go: My new default response when asked what a product manager does is "We make sure the right product is available to the market at the right time at a cost that supports (business) success."

What do you think? Does my definition reflect your experience?

Next post: Getting Ahead of Tomorrow's Problems: Got Research?

You can find more information on me (including upcoming training dates) at

No comments:

Post a Comment