What should a Product Manager do?

     

Right now I am supporting a number of technology companies where the product management organization is being established. Successful startups or more mature organizations where management want to migrate from a project (single-customer) focus to a product (multiple customers in a market) focus.

Once the decision is taken to establish the PM function – the questions regarding interfaces – who should be responsible for what – surfaces.

We can divide the question into two steps:What_should_PM_do.png

  • Work split between PM and other functions such as R&D and marketing
  • Work split within the PM team

Q1: PM FUNCTION INTERFACES

Let’s start with what normally is found to be the responsibility of the PM team. Establishing a PM function does not necessarily mean that all activities related to product management should be handled by that group. On the contrary – the ISPMA Framework states that the entire organization is active in product management processes. The core responsibility of PM would be in creating and using the product strategies. Roadmapping and handling requirements. Driving product launches and defining the marketing story.

  • Interface vs R&D

In product development we have two key roles:

  1. Someone ORDERING development – defining the product.
  2. Someone EXECUTING development.

It is often unwise to combine these roles. In the past (when I was heading an R&D department) – my colleague the Head of PM – told me “Erik, I really appreciate our discussions. The conflicting views is what drives setting realistic goals”. Magnus (not Billgren) was right of course.

We often see that companies define “Scrum product owner” or “Technical product managers” within R&D. Sometime part of that role is covered by a “Requirements engineer” or a “Business analyst”.

  • Interface vs Marketing

The product manager is the one (and only) person really understanding the (customer) values we deliver with our solution. People being responsible for preparing the creative marketing material are often far away from deep technical insights. We often see that technology companies do have a “Product marketing manager role”. These individuals are to be seen as “translators” supporting the hand-over from product management to marketing and sales.

  • Interface vs Delivery organization

I have met some product managers who are required to spend 50% of their time supporting deliveries – often solving minor technical problems and driving cost reduction efforts.

In successful companies daily support functions have been established outside of the PM group – making it possible for the product managers to take on a more strategic position.

  • Interface vs Management

The Director of PM or senior PMs often have an opportunity to directly interact and have an impact on overall Company strategies.

Q2: PM INTERNAL WORK SPLIT

Since product management is such a broad role – it is more or less impossible to find candidates with extensive experience from both marketing, development, production, sales and management …

Often a good strategy is to hire people with different backgrounds to the team. Maybe a former developer, someone from sales – and if possible someone with experience from our customers/users.

The most widespread policy is to split responsibility per product to various PMs. Ie the product manager will be responsible for all aspects of her product. This makes sense of course but puts a lot of requirements on the position. Another common practice is to define one “Strategic/Commercial/Business” role and a parallel “Technical role” (See above on interface vs R&D).

On top of this many PM Director distributes co-ordination responsibilities to team members. Maybe someone will be the expert on pricing, someone else takes the lead on the requirements handling process, the quarterly roadmap update etc.

In particular in bigger organizations product managers are found in several “layers”. There would be PMs for “components” and then at higher levels also for “solutions” or packages/combinations of products to deliver more complete solutions. The title could be “Portfolio manager” or “Solutions manager”

Wrap-up:   There are many different ways to organize product management. Overall there is no “best practice” since factors such as:  organizational size, product complexity, geographical distribution, company maturity will create different environments.

If you want to read more about how product management organization and it's interfaces with other functions, download our Product Management framework. It also goes through the three pillar of product management.

Product Management Framework

 

About The Author

Erik has extensive experience in product management, business management and development. Within the software, electronics and hardware, Erik has pursued commercial success.