Evolution of the Product Manager’s Professional Career Arc

Fragmentation of the Product Manager’s Role

Executive Summary

Job Titles confer not only professional status, but they set expectations among the broad cohort of team members in a product driven organization. The title, “Product Manager”, a professional construct of the  later 20th century, must be one of the most amorphous titles in the modern workplace. How is this so? There has never been more  discussion regarding the definition of the title nor greater assumptions as to what the title entails; we witness this via the sheer number of websites, books, and training materials that have exploded on the scene, especially since the Internet era became pubescent.

Almost every technology driven organization places some emphasis on the Product Management sub org; we have seen the title occupied by engineers, sales persons, and those recruited from within development groups. We now see that specialist Product Managers hang their professional hats on the titular meme. Is it possible that Product go to market can be practiced as a profession without also being well-versed in the product’s particular specialty sector?

This brief will take a quick look at the issues, hopefully stimulating a conversation in your organization leading to further research.

Roles

Professions which define and oversee the  development and delivery to market have been called out as variations of Product Manager, Product Marketing Manager, or other soft-defined titles. Technology driven product companies are the most uniform in assigning a titular Product Manager to own the development milestones and set positioning. The most functional definition for Product Manager states:

“the position should be understood as bidirectional coordinator of the market’s expectations to the dev org, and as first communicator of the marketing org’s best intentions to the target market  – (of what the product will be upon delivery)”.

The Author concurs regarding the above statement.  

The Role of the Product Marketing Manager lies without the boundaries of product managers. This is confusing for the professionals serving within organizations that are multifaceted with deep / broad lines.

Titles are thrown around interchangeably, and nothing more cavalierly than Product Manager, but a marketing manager’s role is tied to specific products and the results  cannot be avoided.  PMs and PMMs are different and they perform different roles.  

A Google search of the variations of these titles proves nothing, except that there is amazing disagreement about what Product Managers are responsible for. 

Product Manager

Product Managers are a bidirectional asset combining analysis and intimate knowledge of the niche;  the complexities of interpreting markets and addressing competitive voids is fraught with subtleties.  The means to surface opportunities from customer problems (via surveys and just being there) is an acquired skill, as is the ability to unambiguously define features and lead the development org with the proper guideposts and roadmaps.

Above the pay grade

Forecasting a Product’s ROI is not the Product Manager’s responsibility, as the C-Suite should conduct due diligence before a product definition is signed. This does not excuse Product Managers for willful blindness or failure to communicate for what might be, for example, the obviously shifting sands of a fickle consumer market.

Product Managers within SME scale entities are often tasked with participating in distribution and pricing, whereas industrial, manufacturing, and Enterprise IT segregate the Product org from such functions.

Titles are Titles, but The Product Manager’s Daily Grind Endures

The art of positioning against competition and market conventions (see Moore’s Chasm diatribes) is mastered over one’s career lifetime. Creating market share projections on the back of an envelope are the veteran Product manager’s stock in trade, similar to the reality checks that are life and death for the CPO and CMO.

Managing the product life cycles for long-lived carrier class hardware and capital equipment is the pinnacle of the Product Manager’s art  – though many professionals heeled in technology based consumer products prefer the yearly rollout schedules.

Keeping one’s engineer and development org positioned as thought leaders and managing analyst relations often round out the extremely busy Product manager’s duties. This is often In addition to being the sole owner / manager of the product roadmap. Crossing boundaries within the org makes for an unfocused workday, to be both outwardly and inwardly focused. Some would have it no other way, while others will not last the week.  

For those with a more technical orientation, Technical Product Managers are architecture and feature Road-map focused.

Product Marketing Managers

A complex and varied role as well, the Product Marketing Manager has shared headaches and pains known only to those interfacing with full-time marketing org. The size of the organization will dictate the stratification of the marketing roles, but Product marketing managers are more closely bound to the Product Manager.

Product Marketing Managers take the Product to market with the internal assistance of the product manager, and get ready to hand off to sales.


Titles, Actions, Results.  

One thing we might agree on when debating the non-specialist Product Manager role vs. organically grown from the development org Product managers, is that good ones know how to write, deliver, and present, and maintain clear Requirements Documents. These all important documents are written by those who understand the market, but all who call themselves by the title can learn a thing or two.

Market Requirements are problem statements of the present market. A product manager who spends time traveling and working with client colleagues gathering data and requirements will grow in knowledge that adds invaluably to the development and marketing org.

Good Product managers are hard to find, sometimes the C-Suite is just content to find merely unobtrusive Product managers who can contribute and lighten the load. But acting as a true harbinger of the market, part analyst, part prognosticator, and trusted agent to the most valuable thought leaders in the client community, is worth pure Gold.

 

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