Product Management 101 — Part 1

Who is a Product Manager?

The ambiguity of the product management role is near to its essence.

Headless chicken might be a bit of an exaggeration. Superman is the right picture.

The difficulty in defining what product management is.

Product management is actually a pretty difficult role to define. The role of product manager and their exact responsibilities change across different industries and different companies. The responsibilities you have at one company in most cases won’t be the responsibilities that you’ll be bestowed with at another company. The industry, size and the growth of the company will have a HUGE say in what you’ll be spending your time on.

Who do you manage?

Pretty much sums it up.

In one word? No-one. The word ‘management’ in product management does not imply managing people, a product manager is not a manager of anybody; No one reports to you, you are not the “CEO of the product”. A product manager has to interact with a bunch of different people, get maximum effort from their engineers and the designers that they work with. And this collaboration requires a constant giving and receiving of feedback.

Would it be comfortable to disagree with your boss every now and then? Probably not.

So you want the people you work with to be able to freely tell you EVERY. SINGLE. TIME. that they disagree with you. This is a non-negotiable in your line of work. This enables a product manager to act as a hub of communications between multiple areas of the company. A product manager must also block certain communication. A PM is an enabler for most everyone but you are also the person who packs a fire extinguisher just in case the sales team decides to meet with the engineering team.

Where in a company does a PM exist?

This could be a sauna but it’s the underworld.

A product managers’ life exists at the intersection shown here. This Venn diagram is a representation of your IKIGAI. You are nothing without what’s shown here, I’m kidding you probably have a life outside of your passion for product or am I? Depending on a bunch of factors such as the type of company that you work in, the industry, the growth of the company, the number of employees, the current phase of the product (read about different phases of a product here), you are either in a calm, serene, peaceful sauna or running around with the fiery pits of hell on your ass while trying to keep a head that’s as cool as the arctic.

It really is fine. No really. I mean it. It is fine. IT IS FINE!!!

So why does a product manager have to facilitate communication?

Engineers are very good at engineering, sales and business people are best at sales and business, designers are best at you-guessed-it-right design and so on and so forth. So, it’s best if these people spend their time doing what they are best at. While engineers focus on solving technical challenges, product managers should be talking to various stakeholders, users, taking in a whole bunch of feedback and observing metrics to decide what should be built next. Not everything that can be built should be built.

Then you sit at the middle of the Venn diagram and converse with each stakeholder in a language that they understand. (Read more about the importance of speaking or at least understanding each stakeholders language here)

So the PM talks to everyone about what the product needs, that it?

Well yes and no. The PM has conversations about the product with users and stakeholders, draws insights from these conversations and influences decisions on what needs to be built and THEN channels these requirements into actionable items for the design and engineering teams.
So now it makes sense why the PM is also the one who takes the blame if there’s something wrong with the product, yea? So in short, if the world doesn’t suddenly change, a product manager is the person who is responsible for a product being successful or not.

A product manager is an amalgamation of a lot of things; a communication hub, a ruthless prioritizer, a researcher, a presenter but most importantly the PM is responsible for the ultimate success of the product.

Okay, so then WHAT. IS. EVEN. A. PRODUCT?