What, exactly, is a Product Manager? "Product people - Product managers, product designers, UX designers, UX researchers, Business analysts, developers, makers & entrepreneurs May 05 2021 False Career, Product management, Mind the Product Mind the Product Ltd 817 The product manager venn diagram Product Management 3.268

What, exactly, is a Product Manager?

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

Product Management Venn
© Martin Eriksson, 2011

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 sit down and code. However, understanding the technology stack and 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 daily 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.

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.

Vision

It starts with setting a vision for the product. This 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. 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 a developer, understanding that vision and being at least a little bit passionate about it as well is important.

Build a roadmap

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. Your team throw themselves into coming up with better designs, better code, and better solutions to the customers’ problem.

Detail, detail, detail

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. You’re constantly looking at how customers use the product, 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 it’s 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…

Discover more content on Product Management or use our Content A-Z to find even more product management content.

I often get asked what a product manager is. What do they do? Where do they come from? How do you get into product management? Why do they like sharpies so much? [caption id="attachment_12863" align="alignright" width="300"]Product Management Venn © Martin Eriksson, 2011[/caption]

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 sit down and code. However, understanding the technology stack and 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 daily 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.

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.

Vision

It starts with setting a vision for the product. This 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. 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 a developer, understanding that vision and being at least a little bit passionate about it as well is important.

Build a roadmap

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. Your team throw themselves into coming up with better designs, better code, and better solutions to the customers' problem.

Detail, detail, detail

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. You're constantly looking at how customers use the product, 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 it's 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... Discover more content on Product Management or use our Content A-Z to find even more product management content.

183 thoughts on “What, exactly, is a Product Manager?

  1. Great Article! Considering organizational structure, where should Product Managers reside – IT? Ecom? Stand Alone?

    1. I believe they must stand alone in the organisation. The head of product should be a peer to the head of technology, marketing etc and report to the CEO. Of course they have to work very closely with those (and other) functions but Product is no more a part of Technology than Marketing is (or vice versa).

  2. Hi! Amazing article, thank you. I’m interested in product management, or at least a role that would put me in shooting distance of a product management position. My background is corporate communications (12+ years) which includes heavy strategy work and company positioning, as well as managing the design department and managing technical and content teams on large website launches. But I lack the technical degree – is there a potential logical next step for me or a good place to break into a product management role?

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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

  7. 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.

  8. 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?

    1. 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.

  9. 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.

    1. 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.

      1. “Just adding one new feature to a product more than doubles the potential for complexity” is as similar to adding hell lot of obscurity to the definition by adding more circles just for the sake of it. Once a PM comes across this then the brevity with clear cut understanding in the Venn Dia is best suited for the definition. People with clarity comes up with clear ideas so as to define the terms.

  10. 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

  11. 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.

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