Sigh! This can be one of the most frustrating questions when it comes to explaining the product management role to a new acquaintance, a well-meaning friend, or just about anyone who isn’t somewhat involved in software or high technology. Inevitably, people try and fit your response into a box they understand, and I get one of the following reactions:

  • Hey, I know of some project managers at my company!
  • Oh, a production manager
  • So, you’re in marketing?
  • What’s that?

No, I’m not a project manager … although I need to understand how to lead such that projects are delivered on time, on scope, and on budget. No, I don’t have anything to do with production in manufacturing sense … although I am responsible for producing results.  No, I’m not “in marketing” the way you are probably thinking about it … although marketing is a critical outbound aspect of my role if I want to be successful. But is the Product Management role really that hard to understand?

 

One of the easiest ways that I have begun approaching an answer for this question is to pose it this way … consider the role of a CEO, I have the same role but rather than being responsible for an entire company, I own the responsibility for a product or set of products.

 

Just to ease my mind that I wasn’t overstretching bounds here, I did a little digging into the roles/responsibilities of a CEO and compared them to a couple of job descriptions for Product Management (director and/or VP level). I realize this is over simplifying things a bit, but in looking at just 5-6 major categories you begin to see the parallels!

Role/Responsibility CEO Product Manager
Strategy Develops business strategy for a company, including establishing policies, goals and mission statements. Develops overall strategic direction of a product – including ideation, development, oversight, and execution.
Visionary/ Information Bearer Ensures staff and Board have sufficient and up-to-date information; Looks to the future for change opportunities. Builds, updates, and communicates the product line vision and road map for executives, core stakeholders and for external consumption.
P&L/Financial/ Budget Plans, develops, and implements strategies for generating resources and/or revenues for the company. Manages P&L for product, creates annual plan for product and tracks performance against plan.
Planning/Objectives Reviews activity reports and financial statements to determine progress and status in attaining objectives and revises objectives/plans in accordance with current conditions. Reviews competitive landscape, market trends and customer win/loss data to understand overall market position and revises strategy as necessary.
Evangelist/Thought Leader The face of an organization, represents company at public events. Networks with other top executives, promotes company and meets with existing or potential clients. The face of the product, represents the product at conferences, meetings, etc. Drives thought leadership through white papers, webinars, and speaking engagements.
Leader/Manager Advises the Board; advocates / promotes organization and stakeholder changes related to organization mission. Leads, coaches, and motivates cross-functional product team. Mentors and continuously improves the skills and capabilities of team.
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