What is the Product Manager Do? - Definition of Roles and Responsibilities

many product management job descriptions mix the roles with product marketing management, project management, user experience design and product architect making it nearly impossible for the product manager to succeed.

While working on my upcoming book entitled “Building Insanely Great Products”, I had a wonderful opportunity to have lunch with my old friend and fellow Hew

lett-Packard product marketing manager  Chris Kocher.  Chris and I worked in the same product management group in HP’s Networking Division and went through t

he same training.  Chris said that when he moved over to a VP position at Symantec, he found they lacked the product life cycle stages and product management processes he had while at HP.So he brought them over.

This is a classic example of how product management and product marketing roles and responsibilities have been handed down from one company to the next and sometimes without consideration of how market conditions may have changed and/or may be different.

Like HP, Symantec has been a pretty successful company–in great part due to great product management and product marketing management.


In my travels and reviews of product management job descriptions, it seems most were written based upon “hand me down” descriptions and, as a result, have product and people failure written all over them.  Sometimes little consideration of how market conditions may have changed and/or may be different.  Or the “recruiter” is unfamiliar with the role or has recruited in the past with the handed down job description. In other cases the recruiter or hiring manager does a web search and grabs another “hand me down” job description.  Not a good way to long term success for the person being hired or for the product.

That is why many product management job descriptions mix the roles with product marketing management, project management, user experience design and product architect making it nearly impossible for the product manager to succeed.

So I have taken the time to think through what the Product Manager’s Role and Responsibilities should be based on what a company must do for their product to succeed and not based upon “hand me down” job descriptions.

Before I go into what a is a good Product Manager job description, let me critique a few current job descriptions from companies that are searching right now.  I have provided a link to the job offer so you can compare what they are saying to my critique. Or skip the analysis and go to the bottom of this post for the conclusions.

Western Digital: Senior Product Manager – Consumer Cloud Computing Solutions

This is a really good job description.  It talks about working with cross functional teams, driving requirements, executing product strategy and so forth.  But it also calls for supporting merchandising and promotion.  I argue the latter is what a Product Marketing Manager is supposed to do. And in a company the size of Western Digital, merchandising and promotion are clearly an outbound role.  It is very hard to successfully do both inbound and outbound activities.

EMC Product Manager

Here, too, under the title of product manager the successful candidate must do both roles.

Kerio: Product Marketing Manager

This job description pins activities as outbound.  Right on.  But.  It calls for the product marketing manager to “Develop product positioning”.  I argue that is the job of the product manager and should be done as part of the product strategy.  All too frequently a product is developed and thrown over the wall to product marketing or marketing and if they then have to figure out how to position it, it is usually too late.  The correct flow is to understand what your customer does followed by the value proposition being offered in comparison to the competition which then leads to the positioning.

Skava: Sr. Product Marketing Manager

Here Skava has the “Senior” product marketing manager reporting to the Director of Marketing which I argue is wrong.  The senior means they are strategic in nature and if they report to a Director level then they will be on the same level as all the other marketing people implementing the marketing plans.  It might work if the marketing team will take direction from the Senior Product Marketing Manager but if they don’t, an integrated comprehensive strategy will likely be poorly implemented.  Especially if this position does not control the product’s marketing budget.  Which it probably does not.

Vocera: Sr. Product Marketing Manager

Very well written.  Reports to the VP of Product Management.  Clearly this company understands the correct and most effective roles.  It says “communicate the value proposition” because, hopefully, the product manager has developed said value proposition.

YuMe: Product Marketing Manager

Here the YuMe folks are using the position title for product marketing manager to cover both it and product manager.  Depending upon the workload, it might be difficult for one person to do both jobs.

Deem: Senior Product Marketing Manager

A nearly perfect job description.  However, he/she should not be “defining…product strategies”.  Helping the product manager, perhaps?  Likewise “helping” with product positioning.

Crittercism: Director of Product Marketing

Another nearly perfect job description.  But.  This job description, like the others, calls for product marketing to develop positioning.  Good positioning work takes a lot more than what is understood here.

Affymetrix: Sr. Product Manager/Marketing

This is everything AND project management!  One of the deviations of product management over the years has been to slide into “proJect” management.  I spell proJect with a capital “J” because some confuse the roles of being a product manager with that of a proJect manager.  Cisco frequently calls their product managers proJect managers.  Sometimes some companies even push product managers into user interface design.  I trained one of the largest banks in the world in product management and product marketing management.  They were also responsible for wire diagrams.  Yahoo calls them Program Managers.

I argue that one person, especially in a large company, can NOT do product management, product marketing management AND proJect management and/or user experience/interface design, and/or program management effectively.

In conclusion:

The “hand me down” job descriptions typically:

  • Mix the roles of product management and product marketing management such that it becomes a nearly impossible job.  The birth of product management came from Procter and Gamble as Brand Management and enhanced by HP.  See the history of product management here.
  • Sometimes includes the additional roles of ProJect Management and/or user experience design and/or program management
  • With the addition of very complex Social Media Marketing Planning, the role gets even more complex.
  • Tends to be written from an MBA-style point of view or technical point of view effectively ignoring what people actually “do”.  MBA’s tend to focus on “markets” whether they exist or not.  (See my post on “Get Market Segmentation Right) Technologists tend to focus on the technology looking for a problem to solve.  More on these topics in future posts.
  • Do not give the product manager the “authority” of having a budget, which forces them to gauge their success based upon their leadership, negotiating, persuasion and communications skills–not their product management skills.  At Procter and Gamble the Brand Manager had budget authority.  Somehow that has been lost over the years.

Now that you know the limitations of “hand me down” product management and product marketing management job descriptions. You can download my Product management job description .

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About David Fradin

David Fradin has trained thousands of managers throughout the world. He infuses his workshops with insights and experiences gained as a expert product leader, product manager and product marketing manager at companies like Apple and HP. He was classically trained as an HP Product Manager and was then recruited by Apple to bring the first hard disk drive on a PC to market. As a result of his leadership and management skills, Apple promoted him first to Apple /// Group Product Manager and later Business Unit Manager at the same organizational level at that time as Steve Jobs. His forthcoming book “Building Insanely Great Products” and these workshops covers the founding values, vision, product life cycle and management employed by Apple at its founding and which it returned to in 1997 when Steve Jobs returned to Apple. What students will learn in these workshops is exactly what has made Apple the most valuable company in the world.

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