Defining the role of a product manager is easy; yet it can be quite tricky. The definition of a product manager differs in different companies, and so do their roles and responsibilities. Before we get into management, let us first understand product managers and the role they play, and how their involvement adds value to the organization.
In general terms, a product is merely an item or service you sell to serve your customers. However, when we define a product in software development, the definition takes on a different aspect.
Note: When we talk about the term ‘product’ in the software development context, we refer to both products and services.
“A product is a website or a software solution that reacts with the end-user. “
What is product management? If you ask ten different product managers this question, you are likely to get ten unique answers. Not surprisingly, all the answers will seem different but will run along the same lines. Why? Because all the organizations hire product managers for their specific needs and objectives. They are accordingly assigned different roles and responsibilities to meet business expectations.
To be precise, product management is the practice of initiating the product development, marketing its launch, and constantly improving products. Product management is a matrix organizational structure that holds a product manager responsible for the success of a product.
Linda Gorchels in her book “The Product Manager’s Handbook” defines Product management as the entrepreneurial management of a piece of business as a virtual company.
Product managers are accountable for business growth without having authority over the entities that make it happen. That means the PM has no direct control over the development or sales team, though they participate in the discussion and implement improvement plans.
Individuals unfamiliar with the discipline of product management often confuse the definition of a product manager with other players. Before we tell you about what a product manager is, let us first understand what a product manager is not.
A product manager is generally an intermediate manager who is accountable for a set of management and marketing tasks. They are in-charge of maintaining and branding existing products, also launching new products, for a given product line, brand, or service.
To do this, they are required to handle the product planning and execution throughout the lifecycle of the product. The product manager is the liaison among the functional departments within the company who holds multiple job title such as brand manager, industry manager, or customer segment manager.
From component suppliers to consumer-packaged goods producers to industrialists – all organizations hire product managers to look after their business needs. Even in non-profit organizations like in hospitals, you will find product managers.
Product management is generally most successful for companies where there are several products with similarities in manufacturing, but with a difference in marketing needs, particularly when the same product cuts across several customer groups.
A product manager must have a blend of technological, managerial, and user experience skills. An understanding of product information, business strategies, and interpersonal knowledge is a must. Those who are new to this field typically spend most of their time gathering and organizing information on the product, its customers, and the competitors, and having basic product knowledge is of utmost importance. With experience, PMs start moving to business management, and may be required to work on finance, marketing, team building, and strategical planning.
They are required to:
Let us dive into each level in brief:
On a daily basis, the product manager is responsible for the following:
In the short-term, the product manager is responsible for the following:
In the long-term, the product manager is responsible for the following:
The best definitions of the Product Manager’s role come from experts from the same industry. Here are some examples:
Scott Brinker says – “The role of a product manager is to discover a product that is valuable, usable and feasible.”
Ben Horowitz, Andreessen Horowitz says – “A good product manager is the CEO of the product. A good product manager takes full responsibility and measures themselves in terms of the success of the product. They are responsible for the right product/right time with all that entails. Bad product managers have lots of excuses.”
Cornelius Fichtner remarks – “The “P” in PM is as much about ‘PEOPLE’ management as it is about ‘PROJECT’ management.”
“Great products are engineered when product managers truly understand the desired outcomes by actively listening to people, not users.” – Michael Fountain, Director of Product at Apptentive
In an organization (say an IT company) where there are already specialized professionals like software managers, project managers, and marketing consultants, how do product managers fit into the equation?
Completing the project without collaborating with the different departments is not just strenuous but a time-consuming process. Product managers come into the picture when there is a need for increased collaboration between all the professionals in order to complete the project on time. They play a balancing game where they keep a balance between time-to-market and time-to-revenue.
Transitioning your product strategy is by no means straightforward and often needs a detailed analysis of your present performance. Figuring out the product designs, evaluating ROI, to name a few, are considerations that need your attention. If your business performance is impressive, there might be no need to transition your product strategy. However, if you are dissatisfied with the performance, there is certainly a need for a change.
Almost 80-85% of newly launched products fail because of improper product management. The most common reason for product failure is not preparing the product in line with market needs. By hiring a product manager in your organization, it is possible to reduce the failure rate, and at the same time, dramatically increase the chances of product success in the market.
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