CommonLounge Archive

What is Product Management?

December 30, 2017

In this tutorial we will cover the following:

  • What is a product?
  • What is product management?
  • The different kinds of product management roles — internal, B2B, and B2C
  • What does a product manager’s average day entail?
  • The differences between product and project management

What is a product?

Products are all around us. Keyboards, laptops, t-shirts, and web browsers are all examples of products. From the perspective of companies however, products are more narrowly defined. It is rare to have product managers in charge of entire devices or pieces of software; most product managers are in-charge of specific features of products.

For instance, at Facebook, each of Photos, Newsfeed, User Profiles, Messaging, and Commenting are distinct products that have product managers and product teams responsible for them. Certain products may also be divided into subsequent sub-products; continuing with the Facebook example, Newsfeed is further broken down into sub-products such as the ranking algorithm and advertising.

In addition to segmenting product responsibilities by sub-products, from the perspective of product manager portfolios, products may also be broken down into platforms. So, PM portfolios will be segmented into sub-products such as the web, iOS, and Android versions of the same product.

What is product management?

It’s hard to precisely define product management because the ambiguity of the Product Manager role is near to its essence. Here’s a great definition by Josh Elman, a former Product Manager at Twitter, Facebook Connect, Zazzle, LinkedIn, RealPlayer etc. and now a partner at Greylock Partners:

Help your team (and company) ship the right product to your users

Responsibilities of the role change across different companies, the industry, and the size of the company. That said, there are some core tenets that cut across these variations:

  1. You are the organizational center for your product. As a PM it is your job to be the communicator who puts together all the pieces by communicating with and gathering feedback from each of the various stakeholders. The PM sits between multiple areas of the company and acts as a communications hub, organizer, and enabler for everyone else.
  2. You’re not tasked with managing certain individuals. As a PM, it is your job to continuously interact with various individuals. In order to ensure each of these conversations are as transparent and honest as possible, PM’s portfolios exclude man-management — PMs are not given the authority to block promotions and fire individuals.
  3. You are responsible for delegating responsibilities. Let the designers do the designing; let the engineers do the engineering; let QA and testing engineers do the testing. It’s your job to keep communication lines open between the various departments, ensure each of the teams are on-track to deliver on the predetermined timelines, and keep a tab on metrics to determine what to build next.
  4. Make the product successful. Above all else, Product Managers are responsible for the success of the product, however it may be defined for the given company.

Kinds of PM roles

In the world of software and technology, there are three kinds of product management roles. The primary difference between each of these roles is the stakeholders:

  1. Internal: Internal PMs are responsible for tools that are utilized within the company itself. For example, if a company has a tool that helps the customer support team reset passwords, it will require a product manager whose portfolio includes oversight of the development of the the tool. Such PMs primarily interact with the internal teams using the product to gather feedback. These PMs are present in both B2B and B2C companies.
  2. B2B: PMs at B2B (business-to-business) firms interact primarily with the sales people to ensure that the product being built satisfies the business requirements of the end-customers for whom the product is being developed. An example of this role is the Product Manager at a B2B company like Optimizely or Salesforce.
  3. B2C: B2C (business-to-consumer) product managers spend a lot more time interacting with end-users directly because, in B2C companies, there are no individuals on the sales team who can tell the PMs that development of a certain feature will net the company $5 million in sales. These roles typically require a lot more vision. An example of this role is the Product Manager for a the Events section of Facebook.

What does a Product Manager’s average day look like?

Given the ambiguous nature of a product manager’s role, it’s hard to define an average workday for one. Every PM’s day includes at least some of the following:

  • Keeping up-to-date with industry news — it’s incredibly important for PMs to have their finger on the pulse of the industry to understand emergent trends
  • Metrics dashboards to look for correlations with release logs and ensure that the products are on-track to meet the determined goals
  • Organizing team stand-up meetings to analyze product backlogs, discuss the projects that are currently being worked on, discuss product feedback, and discuss any anomalies in metrics
  • Gathering customer feedback
  • Speaking to designers and engineers about user feedback
  • Writing specifications, user stories, and tickets for upcoming features
  • Test latest releases
  • Sprint planning
  • User testing of latest features
  • Planning open houses

Difference between product and project management

While product managers certainly require project management skills, the designations of product management and project management entail entirely different portfolios of responsibility. Product managers are responsible for the success of a product — defined by certain metrics — by whatever means they deem necessary whereas project managers are responsible for completing a project while following a predefined set of intermediate steps; product management allows for a great deal of experimentation whereas project management requires one to adhere strictly to timelines and budgets.

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