What is a Product Manager
Take this article to your non-product co-founder or CEO
The idea was to create an article that you can give to an entrepreneur or business manager to understand the value of Product Management.
We have all seen the popular Venn diagram about UX, Tech, and Business, which has multiple variations with more and more cycles. But what is a Product Manager? Is she the CEO of the product (cliché)? A facilitator? A decision maker? A leader? The representative of the customer within the organization? The glue that connects objectives with execution? The person that leads the discovery process? The innovator that comes up with new ideas? The project manager with marketing and tech understanding? Is everything above, in different phases or companies?
To better understand the job of the Product Manager, we need to disconnect the product manager role from the job. People within a company may act under the role of product managers occasionally, while the job of a Product Manager is to be in the position to manage a product (or part of it) within a certain phase of its lifecycle.
Note: Below, when I refer to the role it will be lowercase, when I refer to the Job it will be described as Product Manager.
The role of a product manager
Definition - A product manager is a person who is responsible for the product lifecycle of a product (or part of it) within a company, aka the creation, development, maintenance and reconsideration of it. It may be a dedicated position, but various people occasionally may act as product managers, especially in the early stages of a product where full control is required.
The product manager is the master of the Product Development process. From conception to delivery, from evaluation to iteration. To create and maintain value for customers and organizations through a business model. In other words, the one defining and explaining what and why should be built and shipped to the customers; then increase learning and get back to development.
This role changes over time as well. Initially, you need someone who is effective on Zero to One, then someone good with Growth, then people who can Optimize parts of the offering, and finally someone that may work to Transform the product and work on new ones. Considering that at each stage only Product Managers can make it, it is a mistake; at certain stages, different people with different skills may be more appropriate to manage a product and the product teams.
This is where entrepreneurs and managers get confused. When they start a company or new business initiatives, they may be the product managers. Lucky, scrappy, or ingenious, they did everything or were the force that created an innovative product; including support, operations, hiring, accounting, and raising funds. But soon they realize (or someone tells them) that they can't do everything because building things requires time and effort, and you can’t have a context switch. So, it soon became profound that specialized people in various areas should take over the management of the development process.
The job of a Product Manager
Definition - Product Manager as a job is the dedicated position of acting in the role of a product manager, and it a specialized person able to apply the function of product management on different environments to drive the product development lifecycle.
Eventually, the role of the product manager evolved into a specialized person who can understand data, apply frameworks, tools, best practices, and experiences in order to increase the expected value from a Product Development process - both for customers and the company - and reduce the risk of failure through Discovery. Today, you may find different types of Product Managers, even if this is not profound to the job descriptions or the hiring process.
Definition - Product Management is a function that takes as input the resources, skills, and context of a business in order to generate value for the customers through the delivery of the product experience, and as a result for the shareholders.
This job of managing the product development lifecycle includes many different aspects, asdescribed in his very interesting article"What is product management? What we describe as managing the lifecycle gets more detailed by working with the team on the output (shape) and making what is necessary to go in production and reach the market (ship). In that process, you may have to collaborate with multiple people within the company, thus you have to sync with people.
To understand what a Product Manager has to deal with, we should unfold the context in which she operates; Below you can see what should be taken into consideration to work on product development and all the departments and people that they have not only to sync with but also to engage and collaborate with. Everything starts with the vision of where we want to go and the strategy to reach this point. This message is expressed through positioning, which may not be clear by the time we launch a product and may come later. This direction forms a business model, which is what the client buys as an experience. So far, a Product Manager should interact or take input from executives, co-founders, and business people that are running a company or a business unit.
Then, (ideally) with a Press Release, the team starts the implementation and alignment of what and how we build with the Go To Market strategy. At this stage, a PM should interact with Marketing, Business Analysts, Finance, Operations, Sales, and possibly with Legal to align the entire Product Development roadmap. If we take into consideration that in an agile world with a lean approach and releases, there are pivots, delays, and iterations, you can realize the overload of information a Product Manager has to manage. The bigger the organization, the bigger the overhead, which makes things almost impossible to complete. For that reason, flat structures and Single Thread Leadership for the initiative are highly recommended, to increase the chances of success. This is why we end up with so many complex diagrams, describing what makes a competent Product Manager.
Why and when you need Product Managers
In a company that sells a product - or builds a product to offer a service that needs technology - someone has to be responsible for what is built and why. Someone has to sync external forces with internal capabilities and manage the process on a continuous basis. If you don’t have any, you need a Product Manager… yesterday.
Behind every great product there is someone—usually someone behind the scenes, working tirelessly—who led the product team to combine technology and design to solve real customer problems in a way that met the needs of the business.” - INSPIRED, Marty Cagan
If you are the co-founder, you will notice that at some point your time, focus, or energy on the product starts to decline, or that you haven’t done it before and you don’t know how to do it. This is a signal to hire a Product Manager.