What is a Product Manager?

by Sean Boyce

Often confused with project manager or brand manager a product manager, among other things, includes aspects of both.  The best description I’ve heard to date for a product manager is the CEO of the product.  The “product” is usually some type of technology or software used for purposes internal or external to an organization.  With the growing influence of tech in business the product manager role has continued to grow in demand and play a larger role within organizations.

As technology companies continue to surface so does a flood of new products and services to various markets.  Increasing in importance is ensuring these products and services are well managed.  This includes the product vision which dictates the value delivered to specific customers.  Other elements of product management involve blending business with tech, creating a product roadmap, and feature selection/definition.

Blending Business and Tech

The best product managers typically have experience in business and tech. As tech continues to spill into everything it is becoming a major advantage for someone to have tech experience to help the company bottom line. At a lot of companies tech drives the bottom line so it is easy to understand why experience in both areas would be beneficial.

Understanding how a business operates in general can also help keep a product on track. Ultimately the product needs to deliver value for customers.  Ideally this value is something customers are willing to pay for.  This makes getting the “value” correct quite important.  The greater the value the better a product will theoretically sell.  It is one of the product manager’s responsibilities to ensure the product is performing well (business-wise) or make the necessary changes to get it back on track.

Creating a Product Roadmap

I like to say that every product tells a story. This story helps people understand what a product does.  It isn’t always intuitive for everyone exactly what a product or service does.  The story is an element of determining the product roadmap. This is a plan for developing the product. A roadmap is key to ensure your plan is working. An effective product roadmap is not without checks and balances. Setting a map for where you would like to take a product can change, but ultimately it should be the guide for what you are building or how it is changing (being improved).  Without a product roadmap is it very easy to get lost in the process. Forming and maintaining the product roadmap is another responsibility of the product manager.

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Feature Selection & Definition

When building a product it is very easy to get lost in the details. “Wouldn’t it be cool if it did this??” I hear this all the time from clients, but it is more important to take a step back and plan realistically. You need to understand your market and problems you are solving. Feature bloat is an easy trap to fall into because everyone wants their product to do lots of cool stuff.  What is important to remember is that there is a time and a place for every feature and that should be set by the product roadmap. Until then it is important to run lean. Check out one of my favorite books on this process here. When I say lean I’m referring to designing the product to do exactly what it needs to do exactly when it needs to do it.  If the product is breaking existing behaviors of users then you need to be careful to not overwhelm them. Despite what they might say, it is frustrating for users to change their behavior. Learning takes time and patience and we all have varying degrees of limitations here. Success for your product depends on choosing the right features at the right time. Don’t put the cart before the horse.

Equally important to feature selection is feature definition. What does the feature do?  If you can’t answer that from the perspective of the user stop right there because it isn’t needed. Defining what a feature “does” is very important and often more difficult than most would assume. It may be obvious to the person that designed or built that feature, what it does, but is it intuitive for your user? If not, you have a problem and need to refine it. Again these elements of product management are critical to the success of your product. If your product doesn’t do what your user wants it to do they will go elsewhere to find what they need. Feature selection and definition are critical aspects of what a good product manager should be capable of doing.

If you’d like to learn more about product management or talk more about the services I offer as a product management consultant please feel free to reach out to me at sean@nxtstep.io. Keep disrupting.

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