What, exactly, is a Product Manager?

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Copyright Martin Eriksson and Mind the Product 2011.

© 2011 Martin Eriksson. Re-use with appropriate attribution.

I often get asked what a product manager is. What do they do? Where do they come from? Why do they like sharpies so much?

In his book Inspired, Marty Cagan describes the job of the product manager as “to discover a product that is valuable, usable and feasible”. Similarly, I’ve always defined product management as the intersection between business, technology and user experience (hint – only a product manager would define themselves in a venn diagram). A good product manager must be experienced in at least one, passionate about all three, and conversant with practitioners in all.

Business – Product Management is above all else a business function, focused on maximising business value from a product. Product Managers should be obsessed with optimising a product to achieve the business goals while maximising return on investment. Sorry, this does mean that you are a suit – but you don’t have to wear one.

Technology – There’s no point defining what to build if you don’t know how it will get built. This doesn’t mean a Product Manager needs to be able to sit down and code but understanding the technology stack and most importantly understanding the level of effort involved is crucial to making the right decisions. This is even more important in an Agile world where Product Managers spend more time day to day with the development team than with anyone else inside the business.

User Experience – Last but not least the Product Manager is the voice of the user inside the business and must be passionate about the user experience. Again this doesn’t mean being a pixel pusher but you do need to be out there testing the product, talking to users and getting that feedback first hand – especially in a start-up.

to discover a product that is valuable, usable and feasible – Marty Cagan

Manage what exactly?

Why do you need this breadth of skills? Because the role itself is incredibly broad and varied and you’ll be using them every day.

It starts with setting a vision for the product, which requires you to research, research and research some more your market, your customer and the problem they have that you’re trying to solve. You have to assimilate huge amounts of information – feedback from clients, quantitative data from your web analytics, research reports, market trends and statistics – you need to know everything about your market and your customer, and then mix all that information with a healthy dose of creativity to define a vision for your product.

Once you have a vision, you have to spread the word in your business. Get dogmatic, evangelical even, about the utopia that is your product. And if you can’t get passionate about it – you’re in the wrong job or you didn’t come up with a very good vision. Your success, and that of your product, relies on every team member – from sales to developer – understanding that vision and being at least a little bit passionate about it as well.

And then you switch gears again and start building an actionable plan to reach that vision. A roadmap of incremental improvements and iterative development that take you step by faltering step closer to that final vision. This is when all that hard work preaching the good word pays off – and your team throw themselves into coming up with better designs, better code and better solutions to the customers problem.

Now we get really detail oriented, as you work day in, day out with the development team as a product owner – defining and iterating the product as you go, solving problems as they pop up and closely managing scope so you can get the product out on time.

The product is finally out there and suddenly you’re spending your days poring over data again – looking at how customers use the product, going out and talking to them about the product and generally eating, sleeping and breathing the product. Did you solve the right problem? Do your users get the product? Will they pay for the product?

And then you do it all over again. And these days its not a waterfall process – you’re not doing this step by step, you’re doing this for a dozen products or features at any one time, switching from strategy to tactics in the blink of an eye.

Sound tough?

Sure it’s a tough job but it’s just about the most fun you can have with your clothes on – certainly the most fun you’re going to get paid to do. You get to define the very essence of a product, design solutions to your customers’ problems, work with everyone in the business and play a very large part in your business’s success. We’re the unsung heroes of the tech world – or at least we’d like to think so…

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122 Responses to What, exactly, is a Product Manager?

  1. Simon Cast October 5, 2011 at 3:22 pm #

    You also become the walking encyclopedia of what the product is and can do. You’ll spend a lot of time telling commercial what can be done already and how to do it.

    • Martin Eriksson October 5, 2011 at 3:31 pm #

      Funnily enough I’ve found QA tends to become the encyclopedia of product knowledge – especially when they’re writing and maintaining test plans and automated testing. I seem to be too focused on the next thing and optimising things that aren’t working to remember what already works… ;-)

      • Anonymous October 5, 2011 at 4:52 pm #

        Agreed, QA does tend to become the encyclopedia of product knowledge, but as it’s derived from distilling the product over multiple iterations, not the case if the product is currently in development. Unfortunately, QA is often overlooked as a source of information by developers as they see the role as being one of testers, not exactly at the top of the food chain in a competitive environment.

        As an aside, I have yet to find a Product Manager who possessed the levels of passion and experience in UX to be useful other than for quick, visually opinionated commentary.

        • Martin Eriksson October 5, 2011 at 8:29 pm #

          You obviously haven’t worked with a good one yet! ;-)

          I’m passionate about UX and love getting involved – as a head of product at a startup I don’t have a UX team to fall back on so have to do it myself. I do however know my own limits and when I need to bring in the experts…

          I agree QA often gets mistreated but its one of the things I love about agile – at my previous company we made QA a central part of the team and because they got involved from day one they worked with the devs to write the test plans and execute them. 

          • Anonymous October 5, 2011 at 10:29 pm #

            I couldn’t agree more with this article. Personally I came from a UX/UI background before taking on role as Director of Product. All I can say is that I am extremely glad that I had that toolset under my belt.

            Without compassion for the user you just end up being a feature slinger instead of creating a valuable product and experience.

        • Chris Tinning October 5, 2011 at 9:19 pm #

          Couldn’t agree more about good QA – where the lazy/smart developer goes to find the current state of the nation. They always know the most far flung corners of the app.

  2. William L. Weaver October 5, 2011 at 4:47 pm #

    Modify UX to Science, and you have defined our entire undergraduate major… https://sites.google.com/site/isbtwiki/

  3. William L. Weaver October 5, 2011 at 4:47 pm #

    Modify UX to Science, and you have defined our entire undergraduate major… https://sites.google.com/site/isbtwiki/

  4. Dan Carper October 5, 2011 at 6:14 pm #

    Very nicely written article with a lot of clear and concise info. Thanks for the effort!

  5. Jennipher Marie October 5, 2011 at 7:20 pm #

    Great description. Exactly why I named my blog At the Intersection :)

  6. Austin Hulak October 5, 2011 at 9:08 pm #

    Awesome description… significantly better than the wikipedia article on the subject.

  7. Nerd October 5, 2011 at 10:12 pm #

    Basically you can not write a line of code,get a bunch of “nerds” to write it for you and make much more money than them.You can get away with having practially zero real knowledge about software and make it big in the software industry.

    Not to mention you get invited to all the parties and much higher social value.You truly deserve the all company paid business trip to Europe where you present to customers what you “innovated”.

    Oh and after the product is made,you can go ahead proclaiming after what a great innovator you are.The nerds just wrote the code,the IDEA was yours.Oh what a true visionary innovator you are.

    • Anonymous October 5, 2011 at 10:58 pm #

      In my engineering career, I’ve had a fair share of run-ins with bad product managers, but I think you are underestimating what they do, especially the politics and the planning. Of course each project is a joint effort, but the person coordinating the various aspects of it is naturally going to get recognition.

    • Martin Eriksson October 5, 2011 at 11:18 pm #

      Dude! Sounds like you need a new product manager!

      All kidding aside I believe the product manager’s core function is to prioritise and define the problems to solve – it’s up to the team as a whole to come up with the best solution to that problem. But that’s another blog post…

      And yes, whoever designs it gets the credit. And no, I’m usually the one stuck back in the office while the founders are out partying ;-)

    • Charles September 25, 2012 at 1:00 pm #

      Looks like you’re a bit frustrated. Coding is not everything. Are you talking to legal to see that the company won’t get sued? Are you sitting with Finance to create the business cases? Are you reading contracts, NDA’s, T&C’s and EULA’s until your eyes hurt? Are you training customer service and Sales? Are you creating & powerpoints about what the product does and how it fares and presenting in front of the board/senior management? Are you discussing marketing strategies? Are you doing market research, organising workshops with customers and analysing findings so that you can understand what your customers really want? Are you talking to providers? Are you supposed to know at any point in time what your competition is doing? Are you devising price strategies? Etc. etc.
      No, I think not.

    • JeffT June 2, 2014 at 9:15 pm #

      I think finding a company that knows everyone is important and should be made to feel valuable to the organization should be your priority. Some do. And by the way, there is actually a lot of value to the sales and customer interaction elements, as well as research, communication and strategic management that make up the profession, and makes it possible for the work to be financed. Generally, that skillset is not found in a code-writer, who would likely hate the politics, business, and social skills that actually are work, when you get down to it, that just seems like ‘play’.

    • Kaytee August 12, 2014 at 10:44 pm #

      Nerd,
      It’s always sad when there are inequities in valuing all facets of a team effort. In an ideal world, I feel all contributors should be appreciated.

      I used to work in the “tech” sector as a scientist in the Pharma Industry where the “business” and “UX/customer” groups were upheld on a much higher pedestal. I later branched out into project/program/product management. While it is true that there are a lot of customer-facing activities + the perks that go with it, my workload + hours vs. salary is far lower than the folks in dev.

      *Sigh* While I love what I do, it’s tough when your contributions aren’t valued as much as other functional areas.

      —–

      Martin,
      Thank you for your article. It brings much needed insight to what seems to be an often misunderstood role. Although it’s been a function of mine for a while now, my title has never been “product manager”, which leads to even more confusion.

      To further cause confusion, although I do work with dev teams on software projects, I also function as a “product manager” for process improvements, workstation/facilities improvements, and in deploying new methodology to production. I’ve found that I can actually apply Agile to these non-software related activities (in a slightly modified fashion), and perform my role as a “product manager”. However, I’ve had a number of titles – none of which includes “product manager” and very rarely does it include “project or program manager” either. As a result, it’s been tough for me to convince companies that I have a wealth of experience. Any suggestions?

      I think I’ll provide companies with your Venn diagram from now on. Hopefully that will help them to better understand the type of services that I can provide. :-)

  8. Peter Steinberg October 6, 2011 at 12:04 am #

    1. Pretty dead on conceptually but I’d add a few more circles of varying size to that diagram: Design, Customer Service, Marketing, (sometimes QA) and the CEO. In my experience every one of these camps, no matter how they’re grouped, has a voice that needs to be heard.

    2. I generally describe the job to a layman as an architect and general contractor all rolled into one. Imagine building a house if the homeowner, city planning department, plumbers, electricians, carpenters, tilemen, painters, landscapers… if they all showed up at once and tried to collaborate without anyone leading on the vision (the architect) and then leading on the execution (the general contractor). You’d… eventually end up with… something but without those leading and coordinating roles it would be a triple loss: take longer, cost more, and not fulfill the original goals.

    3. Finally, I usually call the roll “Product *Development* Manager”. In my mind, a Product Manager manages (babysits) something that’s mostly built or done. A Product Development Manager is part of building something new.

  9. PM Hut October 6, 2011 at 11:23 am #

    Hi Martin,

    The role of the product manager seems to be ambiguous to many project managers (although there are many articles, including this one, that clarify the differences between the two), and that’s why I would like to republish your post on PM Hut.

    Please either email me or contact me through the “Contact Us” form on the PM Hut website in case you’e OK with this.

  10. PM Hut October 6, 2011 at 11:23 am #

    Hi Martin,

    The role of the product manager seems to be ambiguous to many project managers (although there are many articles, including this one, that clarify the differences between the two), and that’s why I would like to republish your post on PM Hut.

    Please either email me or contact me through the “Contact Us” form on the PM Hut website in case you’e OK with this.

  11. pescatello October 6, 2011 at 6:14 pm #

    Really great article and description of the product manager position. I wish more people understood this. 

  12. pescatello October 6, 2011 at 6:14 pm #

    Really great article and description of the product manager position. I wish more people understood this. 

  13. James October 7, 2011 at 1:12 pm #

    The first comprehensible description I’ve seen. How did you create the venn image? iPad?

    • Martin Eriksson October 8, 2011 at 2:27 pm #

      Thanks! Made the venn diagram in Keynote actually…

  14. Katelyn Friedson October 8, 2011 at 9:31 pm #

    I must say first that I love and respect the fact that you value product management, and have actually taken the time to do all of us in this field justice, by posting a blog on what the role of a PM actually is.

    Product Management and people’s incredible misunderstanding or apathy for the role is the bain of my existence. I often try to educate others, but find that most do not care, or still do not understand.

    And while I also love the venn diagram (the simpler we can describe product management to people the better),  I have to disagree with a major (and a few minor) notions you make about the role of a PM.  

    As many have probably mentioned, the role varies across organizations. That sole fact bothers me.  In my opinion, the role of a PM shouldn’t change  so drastically from one company to another so that it results in confusion about the role. Some Engineers are faster than others, some are more strategic. Designers are designers- whether they work at a bakery, startup or financial institution. So why the special treatment? Some product managers are more technical where as others are more strategic, but this is no different from cases I’ve described above.

    I’m no Marty Cagan, Ben Horowitz, Steve Blank or Steven Johnson,  but I respect everything they have to say, and make sure I read as much as I can about their views on product management.

    From what I’ve gathered- whether it’s from some of the names above, or others, or just from being in the field long enough, the role is very easy to describe: It’s applying your knowledge or understanding of technology to meet the needs of your market and consumers, while making sure they align with your business goals. So with that said, I would probably rearrange your venn diagram. Especially because the circle that I is missing, is one I believe to me the most critical role of the product manager, which is knowing your market and consumer so well that the product practically builds itself.

    My first thought was that the circles of your digram dont carry the same meaning. Business and Technology are two high-level sides to business. User Experience, on the other hand, is simply one of many skills a Product Manager should know to be able to deliver the market a usable product.  But I question how  PM can possibly define the user experience for a user that she does not know. (At least, it’s not listed on your diagram as being a critical entity that a PM intersects with).

     It’s impossible to provide an unmatched user experience if you don’t even know who your user is. Are they well educated and tech savvy? affluent? elderly, or between ages 6-12? 

    I only make this argument to emphasize what I believe to be the most important role of a PM, and also the missing circle of your diagram, which is the market. Without a solid understanding of your product’s market and customer (Who the customer is, what their goal is, what problems they suffer from, what their patience threshold is) a product manager will not know what product to build, what problem to solve, what feature to improve or strip out, or why her product simply has no users at all.  UX is really a trivial piece to a much bigger picture.
    Finally, while I do agree that you are spot-on with the intersection between Business and Technology, I question your supporting arguments of the two, (but it could just be a matter of semantics) Re: Technology- You mention a product manager has to know HOW a feature is built in order to know WHAT to build (or what can be built).  I don’t find this to be entirely true. Knowing what can be built or having a very good understanding of a certain technology to apply it in creative ways is  very different from actually knowing how to apply it.  It’s a matter of “can” versus “how” – and often the ‘how’ can done in many ways, and it’s up to the engineer to determine the best one for the business.  A good example, for example, is knowing that Company XYZ’s API can be leveraged to enhance content on your site. In this case, the PM is making a very well informed assumption, based on her knowledge of technology, that the API solves the content problem.  But she must then turn to the technical experts and use her technology bent to be able to effectively communicate her vision, without solving the problem technically, in order to understand not just if it’s feasible, but how much effort is involved, how much it costs to outsource, or if it’s dependent on making a change in the infrastructure first, before implementing.And Finally: Business. In my opinion, a product manager must understand the goals of the business in order to gather market needs and align them with business goals. Additionally, she must be able to communicate potentially complex technical concepts or features to less tech-savvy individuals.

    • Martin Eriksson October 10, 2011 at 8:45 am #

      Thanks for taking the time to comment and sorry you think I missed the mark but bane of your existence? Makes me sound like a Bond villain…

      I agree that Product Management is an unnecessarily fluid concept, but I think some variance between product managers can only be expected in such a broad, generalist role. The core is the same – bridging business, technology, and the user experience, but the day to day focus is different depending on the team, the company and the product.

      Speaking of that core – I agree that knowing your market is absolutely essential, which is why the first paragraph describing product management is all about market research. I think I find market knowledge so fundamental to both the business and UX circles that I just didn’t call it out separately. I also use UX in it’s widest sense to mean the overall user experience and customer engagement, so maybe that venn circle should simply be the customer.

    • Martin Eriksson October 10, 2011 at 8:45 am #

      Thanks for taking the time to comment and sorry you think I missed the mark but bane of your existence? Makes me sound like a Bond villain…

      I agree that Product Management is an unnecessarily fluid concept, but I think some variance between product managers can only be expected in such a broad, generalist role. The core is the same – bridging business, technology, and the user experience, but the day to day focus is different depending on the team, the company and the product.

      Speaking of that core – I agree that knowing your market is absolutely essential, which is why the first paragraph describing product management is all about market research. I think I find market knowledge so fundamental to both the business and UX circles that I just didn’t call it out separately. I also use UX in it’s widest sense to mean the overall user experience and customer engagement, so maybe that venn circle should simply be the customer.

    • AlCowpwn June 19, 2014 at 3:20 pm #

      Are you serious? While I appreciate the effort you put into your reply, brevity would be a fantastic quality to have. My take on “Tech” is that Martin means “Engineering”, the really technical people (and less business savvy but still have a basic idea of what a business is). While I mostly agree with your last paragraph, I don’t see a “WHY”.

  15. c vic October 9, 2011 at 1:02 am #

    I’m a programmer. Product manager is overhead and takes time away from programing.

    • Zep October 11, 2011 at 9:59 pm #

      Then your company has the wrong people in the product manager role. Your product managers should be adding value, even to you as a programmer :)

      • Martin Eriksson October 12, 2011 at 8:34 am #

        Zep’s right. It’s a bit like saying architecture or testing is overhead and takes time away from programming – technically true but the result is better with a bit of planning and testing…

    • Zep October 11, 2011 at 9:59 pm #

      Then your company has the wrong people in the product manager role. Your product managers should be adding value, even to you as a programmer :)

  16. kentzhu October 12, 2011 at 2:02 pm #

    1年以前,我写了一篇博客并画了一张图( http://www.ikent.me/blog/3019
    我认为,PM应该同时关注产品设计、工程技术、市场运营。
    PM在做一个产品的同时需要从这3个方面入手,力求达到一个平衡点。在团队里,PM总是那个寻求满意解的人,而不是最优解的。

    今天看到阁下这篇文章,发现观点出奇的一致,感到非常的荣幸,幸会幸会!

  17. Allan H October 12, 2011 at 5:02 pm #

    Do you think a Product Manager exists more to:
    – support Sales (by providing them tools and knowledge, as well as firefighting customer problems to give them more time to sell ) 
    or
    –  direct them (by communicating the product’s business goals and defining the target customers)

  18. Vjeste October 18, 2011 at 1:07 pm #

    A key requirement for the Product Manager is that he/she define the need, market potential, competitive environment, manufacturability, and above all, profitability. Over the past 30+ years, I have seen sales people ask for a product with features that made the product extremely complex and dififcult to produce resulting in very high cost. We all have heard the phrase, “evrything but the kitchen sink”. The Product Manager has to have very good understadning of what key features need to be included without exceeding targets for the cost and profit margins. He has to take a firm stand against the tendency to add bells and whistles just because someone promises truckload of orders if we have it.  

  19. Vjeste October 18, 2011 at 1:07 pm #

    A key requirement for the Product Manager is that he/she define the need, market potential, competitive environment, manufacturability, and above all, profitability. Over the past 30+ years, I have seen sales people ask for a product with features that made the product extremely complex and dififcult to produce resulting in very high cost. We all have heard the phrase, “evrything but the kitchen sink”. The Product Manager has to have very good understadning of what key features need to be included without exceeding targets for the cost and profit margins. He has to take a firm stand against the tendency to add bells and whistles just because someone promises truckload of orders if we have it.  

  20. Bruce McCarthy October 23, 2011 at 2:55 am #

    Great summary, well told. The venn diagram is particularly apt (as is the comment on PM’s fondness for them). 

    I created a product manager persona based on data from multiple surveys from places like Pragmatic Marketing: http://www.userdriven.org/blog/a-product-manager-persona.html. I wonder if you see your idea of a PM there?

  21. Rahul Dighe November 19, 2011 at 8:38 pm #

    It’s unfortunate the question gets asked but needless to say being Product Number 1 at company always means someone asks you this question or it’s to your benefit as to what you actually do. 

    I would always describe it with a slight slant – I would define product manager as a intersection of 

    > User – what the user wants ?
    > Tech – what we can actually build?
    > Marketing – what we can actually sell?

  22. Tamsin November 30, 2011 at 11:09 pm #

    Great post. How about marketing, where does that fit? Many product management roles include a healthy portion of marketing strategy and planning, if not execution.

  23. Robert Freedman December 8, 2011 at 6:39 pm #

    Thanks for the article.  In the Venn diagram, I think there could be 5-7-9+ circles with the intersection in the middle called Product Manager!   Ultimately, a PM’s day job varies significantly depending on product type, organization stage and product stage, but all PMs have a common primary task: to be the voice of the product.

    In terms of product type, at a semiconductor company, the PM is deep in the numbers — NM die size, expected yields, competitive performance analysis, etc.  At a mobile app company, the PM plays with competitors’ apps and monitors Gizmodo.  These two PMs have different skillsets and spend their days differently.

    In terms of company stage, early product is built by founders and engineers, typically with no PM. Somewhere along the way, an official PM is anointed.  If it’s consumer, the UI team, devs and other stakeholders in the organization probably have as much knowledge of the product as the PM from Day 1. If it’s B2B, the PM may have the most business knowledge initially, but good devs, sales, PSO and others will quickly come up to knowledge parity with the PM.

    In terms of product stage, V1 may be out the door with no PM and V2 may be PM “coordinated.”  But we often see a V3 that is the big update to fix those V1 legacy issues and the V2 rush to market issues with a full revamp or product line extension, and V3 may be truly PM-led.

    But regardless of the situation, my view is that the PM’s most important task is to be able to speak for the product.  Any question that can be asked about the product is something that the PM either knows or is responsible for finding the answer to.  Why did V1 do this, but V2 does that.  Why is this button green instead of blue….  It means that the PM is spending time with customers, CEO, sales, UI, support, dev, analysts, personal research, etc., coalescing all of the information.  And for one of the more important questions — What does the product want to be when it grows up (or at least for the next rev)? — the PM’s personal opinion may not be the best.  But the PM’s formulated response based on the information he or she has pulled together about the product is THE answer.  Thinking about the product as a “person” with its own personality, quirks, and future desires, the PM is the channel for that “person” and does whatever it takes to speak most effectively for “it.”

  24. Mark Attew December 10, 2011 at 12:06 am #

    How would you define the difference between strategy and tactic in the context of Product Management?

    • Mkrohne January 19, 2012 at 2:34 pm #

      Broadly defined, Strategy is a plan for achieving a goal. Tactics detail what exactly it is you need to do to complete the strategy. 

      Our goal is to beat the competition. Our strategy is to create and sell a product that meets the needs of the market better than anyone’s product currently does – or will do in the future – at a profit. Our tactics include using specific research tools to understand the market; using our proprietary technology to develop solutions; testing prototypes in specific markets; and creating specific production methods that will generate a cost effective product at specific price points.Tactics are what you will be doing today. Strategy is the over-arching plan that guides your tactical decisions. Goals are what drive your strategy and help determine your measurements of success.

      • wrencis August 9, 2012 at 6:08 am #

        This inspired some thought for me. Couldn’t you think of a plan for achieving a goal as tactics? The plan being the list of details? And beating the competition might be seen as an aspiration rather than a goal. Sometimes goals are presented as being more detailed like increase sales force by 20% this quarter to increase market share above 40% by end of year.

        Strategy can be hard to define, though. Maybe something like it’s the guiding principle that informs how we will move from where we are to the completion of the goal. There has to be a more elegant way to state it than that though. Any ideas?

        • John Shapiro June 12, 2014 at 3:38 pm #

          Strategy is the plan for how you will achieve the goal, specifically what you will do, but just as (or even more) importantly, what you will not do. If no one can disagree with your strategy, then it really isn’t a strategy. No offense Mkrohne, but “to create and sell a product that meets the needs of the market better than anyone’s product currently does – or will do in the future – at a profit” sounds great, though it’s not a strategy. A strategy could be “to create and sell a product that meets the needs of the low end of the market with a cost structure that allows us to underprice the competition by 90%.”

          Note what’s implied by that statement. We’re not going to have the best, most fully featured product. We’re probably not going to hire a sales force, and we definitely won’t be throwing the wildest party at SXSW. We’re going to be a low-cost, low-end disruptor to an existing market. This is only one of lots of possible strategies. The right one is a matter of your market, user, and product.

  25. T.K. December 13, 2011 at 7:03 pm #

    Martin, this is almost spot on with my perspective on what a Product Manager does. The only difference is that I would expand upon UX to also include customer/market objectives/desires, i.e. bringing in an external perspective.

  26. Alan February 8, 2012 at 1:35 pm #

    Product managers are not even closely related to ‘suits’. 

  27. Evan Quinn February 26, 2012 at 3:22 pm #

    Showing my age here because you seldom find these in automobiles anymore, but I started in product management in the 1980s, and often thought this was a good metaphor: PMs are the distributors, as in http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Distributor – from R&D to marketing to channel to customer to supply chain to communications to delivery to reinvention to business management – the spiritual, informational and motivational guide for all involved.  More metaphors: head of the octopus, point guard on basketball team.

  28. Apcampos22 March 16, 2012 at 3:58 pm #

    Your image is worth a thousand words! Great succint definition too.

  29. Ky Beckx March 26, 2012 at 1:59 pm #

    Brilliant :) This sounds like something I would write if I had more experience. Only a year of full blown experience as a PM but loving it so far coming from a Sales/Marketing background.

    Thanks for the post!

  30. Aesthetic Grace April 5, 2012 at 2:32 pm #

    Great stuff. Good perspective.
    As time goes on, smart businesses are recognizing that ‘Business’ needs (ie business requirements) are aligning more and more with user needs. This is causing a major shift in Product development away from “Business Requirements” and toward “User Stories”.Might be splitting hairs here, but as time goes on, I think it’s looking more like this:

    :)

    • Mathy March 8, 2014 at 8:23 am #

      Yes the UX will be overwhelmed by business, however it means that the UX would be considered in business, so the knowledge of business would include that portion and the role would not be different to that extent.

  31. Vinay Murthy April 14, 2012 at 2:20 pm #

    Great article, Martin. I would also add on the tactical side, a PM has to be extremely good with prioritization of tasks. This would make or break a product or delay taking the product to market. You have to set a deadline for each release and work backwards on what you want to keep and what to take out. The other thing you touch upon, but is important is to build analytics into your product, to capture the ROI, usage and productivity gains.  

  32. Sheetal Achalkar May 8, 2012 at 4:05 pm #

    No wonder the most confused lot of the industry is tech recruitment group, and no wonder I have to keep modifying my resume! But can’t blame the recruiters- they come across same roles with myriad titles or myriad roles for the same title, depending on what the company they are recruiting for decides to call the role. Neither are the companies to blame cos IT is an ever-changing ever-evolving industry. If the company is a start-up there is hardly ever a separate “product manager” role; it is (naturally) only once budgets expand and companies grow that they form distinct UX, Tech and BA roles, and then finally Product Management.

    My two cents- Product Management is about building & managing relationships between a) teams, b) between clients & company, c) between product itself and its consumer; for all of which communication is the key. And in order to communicate, the Product Manager has to “speak” UX, Tech, BA, and maybe even QA, sales & training for example.

    In short, the Venn diagram totally hits the nail on the head.

    But how does it solve the problem created by this confusion when it comes to hiring or applying for Product Manager roles- how does someone like me with a checkerboard of tech/ UX/ BA titles merge em all successfully on a resume so that it gets through to hiring managers? Change titles of previous roles??

  33. Amr55 July 1, 2012 at 3:29 pm #

    Just stopping by to tell your PM definition was used (with appropriate reference) in this book “Confessions of a Product Manager” by Theo Milner on amazon http://amzn.to/N07Wes.

  34. Gemma Angelina July 25, 2012 at 4:59 pm #

    Thanks for the insightful description. Do you have any suggestions for aspiring product managers? Most positions I have looked up require a minimum of 3-5 years experience as a product manager. I have a software engineering background and would like to cross-over. What are some great ways to get product manager relevant experience to prepare for a position?

  35. Soumit Banerjee December 22, 2012 at 10:46 am #

    Awesome write-up and JIT for me :) was rummaging about in my brain to come up with a definitive term for what I’d love to do after my MBA. Your words connected the dots beautifully! So I would love to be a product manager in the tech world soon one day.

  36. Johnny December 29, 2012 at 4:31 pm #

    wonderful !

  37. Puja Parakh June 12, 2013 at 12:54 am #

    Hi there –

    I just want to say THANK YOU for this article. All I needed was the venn diagram to show me that I needed to make a career shift to incorporate all aspects of a product. I am now working as Product Manager, and it really all started with this article. I am happy and so grateful.

    Puja Parakh – Product Manager at Avvo.com

  38. Αen June 24, 2013 at 6:56 pm #

    The diagram is wrong. A PM isn’t all three. http://aen.writeonpure.com/p/qjg58t. Other than that great article.

    • Martin Eriksson July 13, 2013 at 9:48 am #

      I didn’t say they are all three, just sit in the middle of those three. Having said that the best product managers have hands on experience in two or even all three areas.

  39. Virtualbrown July 25, 2013 at 4:47 pm #

    Traced this back from a Facebook post just to point out the Cagan parallel…only to find out that is your lead off point. Nice.

    Venn Mapped to Cagan

    Business = Product that Solves a Problem

    UX = Product that is usable

    Tech = Product that is feasible to build.

    • Martin Eriksson January 21, 2014 at 2:15 pm #

      Yepp, they’re very much aligned – though I would argue Business = Valuable in the Cagan parallel. Of course it has to solve a problem to be valuable…

  40. jdm81 September 17, 2013 at 1:49 pm #

    Martin, does the product management role typically involve defining and pricing the services around the product? Or is this typically a seperate role? I ask because it seems that both of these roles could probably, should probably, stand on their own. What do you think?

    • Martin Eriksson January 21, 2014 at 2:14 pm #

      I think it depends on the product – if the services are integral to the success of the product then it should absolutely be part of the product management role. If they’re an add-on it may not be as necessary.

  41. sapir November 13, 2013 at 2:20 pm #

    Amazing. loved it

  42. kfir December 17, 2013 at 1:07 pm #

    good article. thanks.

  43. stfu January 9, 2014 at 6:50 pm #

    omfg this is stupid

  44. Mark Joyce January 20, 2014 at 1:22 pm #

    This a brilliant article! It defines and captures the essence of what a product manager truly is and in some situations where the PM role is not defined or somewhat misunderstood by businesses it is what we should be striving to do. Thank you Martin, I will be a keen follower of yours from today.

  45. InnDeGrean February 18, 2014 at 8:48 am #

    Nice one, I want to be a product manager.

  46. jonathan blackwell April 3, 2014 at 12:48 am #

    Love a Venn Diagram! Thanks @bfgmartin:disqus @bfgmartin for the indirect invitation to create my own ;) Thanks also for your kind responses to posted comments.

    I’ve based this illustration based on a decade of experience… I find the Product Manager to be influential in UX, UI, Business and Build aspects of work with each overlap as its own potential competitive advantage.

    Working well between UX and UI makes Good Design. UI and Build relationships create a Design/Build approach. Build and Business working together create Innovation. The UX and Business overlap is where it’s at, as value is created based on Client Focus @twitter-15585245:disqus @kfriedson!

    The PM actively works in each pairing to elevate the business with effective teams in circles that otherwise rarely directly overlap. The two-way arrows are important as a good PM should be in constant supportive dialogue with all.

    Does anyone else reading this find that in their personal life they also act as a bridge between social groups? I’ve been like that all my life and only recently have I figured out it’s my competitive advantage in the workplace…

    Let me know what you think and join my circles! @lineaist #linebrand

    Cheers,
    Jonathan Blackwell, MBA
    http://www.facebook.com/Linebrand

  47. Jeffrey Wan April 4, 2014 at 5:34 pm #

    Thanks a ton for the post Martin! Really informative and clear all around!

  48. JeffT June 2, 2014 at 9:06 pm #

    Thanks Martin. I’m just now considering a move from business manager to product manager and find this very insightful as a perspective, and it seems to describe the type of role I would rather play, and the strategy-based skillset I believe I have. I see some other people have re-described your VEN, but I believe they may be missing a bit of the point. You have simplified many elements into the core foundations that define what must come together for any product to be successful.

  49. Olivia Jennifer June 24, 2014 at 10:16 am #

    The Product Owner represents the interest of the
    stakeholder community to the Scrum Team. The Product Owner is responsible for
    ensuring clear communication of product and service functionality requirements
    to the Scrum Team, defining Acceptance Criteria and ensuring those criteria’s
    are met. In other words, the Product Owner is responsible for ensuring that the
    Scrum Team delivers value.

  50. inflectra . July 9, 2014 at 4:26 am #

    The following whitepaper (http://www.inflectra.com/Ideas/Whitepaper/Agile-Product-Management.aspx) discusses how the role of the product manager has changed due to the adoption of agile methodologies.

  51. James August 4, 2014 at 11:50 pm #

    This is a lovely vision – I tend to inherit products that are not working, just about get them to a place where they are okay and then get stuck with them for years with no budget because it has been spent on the replacement project which the company is spending $50m on. I battle on, with 1 developer and me attempting to solve the problems of 100,000 users with no cash for infrastructure, then when the new product comes along I get asked why the product I’m managing doesn’t integrate with everything, give live reporting to everyone, deliver mobile applications etc etc. Well – because I didn’t make it and because I have no bloody money! Then the new product fails to live up to the hype and a couple of years later they’ll be looking for something new, it’ll be added to my portfolio at that point.

    Basically, I hate my job.

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