What does Product Management mean? DC: Depending on who you ask, everyone has different definitions. Product Management is really solving problems for the business and customers. Businesses exist because they want to provide value to customers. Customers patronise businesses because there is value that they are getting from them. So as a Product Manager in whatever industry you are in, what you are trying to do is solve problems for the business in a way that would obviously satisfy customers.
If you are solving business problems and there are no customers, there is a problem. If you are also meeting the needs of your customers at the expense of the business, that’s another problem. Product Management is finding the fine balance between solving problems for the business in such a way that you are meeting the customers’ needs and providing value to the business stakeholders as well as your customers.
Misconceptions about Product Management.
A. Product Managers Are Project Managers
DC: One interesting thing about Product Management is that if you have 5 Product Managers working in the same industry but at 5 different companies, their experience will essentially be different.
Product Management is distinctly different from Projuct Management but what you find depending on the size of the team is a Product Manager will most likely double as a Project Manager. While the Project Manager is really more interested in the project as a goal - start date, end date, resources required to get the project delivered; the Product Manager is tasked with the actual deliverables - what is being built, what the actual specifications are of what is being built.
For instance, say the project is to design a new type of mobile phone, it’s the Product Manager’s job to define what the specifications are - how many cameras, how many megapixels, what’s the size of the RAM, all of the features and the functionality. And then, depending on how large the team is, the Project Manager can work with the Product Manager to say based on the features and functionality that the product will have, it will take x amount of time to complete this project.
Product Manager - deals with specifications and requirements in terms of what should be built while the
Project Manager - is tasked with managing resources around the delivery of that project
B. Product Management Is A Technical Role
DC: There are fantastic product people who work in the tech industry who don’t have a technology or technical background. One of the things I like about Product is that anyone from any industry can pivot to Product Management. The most important thing with product management is really just knowing how to solve problems. On the other hand, because I am a Product Manager with technical expertise, I find that it makes certain decisions easier.
So for instance, if I am negotiating with an engineering team, because of some understanding that I have, I can negotiate further or even help when it comes to troubleshooting. That doesn’t mean that automatically anyone with a technical background makes a better Product Manager. It does depend on whatever the unique situation is. I have found that for me, it has been an advantage because I can speak the same language and help troubleshoot. But I don’t think that by default it makes you a better Product Manager.
C. Product Managers Are In Marketing
In some organisations, depending on how large they are, they may have a Product Marketer role, and also have a marketing department that is in charge of marketing. In smaller organisations, however, you might have the product team responsible for marketing the product. I think the way it works is there definitely is some overlap between what the product team is building and the marketing team, whether it is in the same department, or the same person doing the same role or distinct departments.
At the end of the day, the product is being built for customers. Marketing needs to communicate the value of the product rightly. So if there is a disconnect between what is being built and what the value is, then you wouldn’t meet your goals as a business because your customers don’t understand the value of what has been built. So, if you are in the core marketing department, you have to understand what exactly the specifics of the product are so you can communicate it correctly.
D. Product Managers Just Write The Requirements/Specifications
One of the things about Product Management is that it is one of those roles where you are in the background sometimes, doing lots of things. There are a lot of memes online about Product Managers and what they do. You have the engineering team who are the football players scoring goals (building the actual product). The Product Manager is like the coach running around telling them what to do, even just trying to encourage from the sidelines.
In terms of output, specifications and requirements documents are some of the artefacts that a Product Manager will deliver. There is a lot of work that goes into that process. You have to, first of all, speak with your potential customers or stakeholders that represent those customers. Then there is research to do on figuring out what the market trends are, figuring out sometimes what tools to use working with the engineering team. There is a lot of work.
If you think of an iceberg. The requirements document is the tip of the iceberg.
But underneath, you have 90% that goes into figuring out what exactly should happen.
On the other hand, there is also the aspect of delivery. After you’ve completed your requirements document and everyone is aligned around what to build, the next step is actually building that. And Product Managers work with the engineering team, depending on the size of the team, to deliver that from writing user stories to get everyone aligned
on what exactly is to be built, to running the different scrum ceremonies from the daily stand up to the sprint review, sprint retrospective and sprint planning.
E. Product Managers Are The Boss
One of the frustrations of Product Management is the fact that many times you are not responsible for directly getting the work done in terms of implementing the feature that you shared with the engineering team but as a Product Manager, people hold you accountable if something goes wrong.
One of the key requirements of being a good Product Manager is being able to influence. From influencing the business whether it comes to moving timelines because they are super ambitious, or influencing the engineers to meet a tight deadline or even just prioritising and influencing the business in terms of ‘this is the roadmap’ or ‘this is how much we can get done by this time’.
It is a role that usually can be thankless. If you are looking for glory, the Product Manager role may not be for you. However, it is a very fulfilling role because at the end of the day when you’ve spent time figuring out what your customer’s problems are, when you’ve worked with the engineering team to build, worked with the marketing team to push, and you see people using your product, then it makes everything worth it.
It is a very important role. You are not the boss because even when it comes to marketing decisions about what to build, Product Managers fall into that temptation of deciding what features to build. But because you are building for your customers, then you truly need to understand them and ensure that you are building something that meets their needs. The Product Manager’s role isn’t centred around the Product Manager.
F. Product Managers Spend All Their Time With The Development Team
No, they don’t. This statement goes to show how different product teams are, depending on the structure of the company. There is another role called the Scrum Master. The Scrum Master’s responsibility is to run the scrum ceremonies, from the daily stands to checking with the developers to see what was done the previous day and what’s going to be done today, from the sprint planning which basically is the meeting where you decide what you are going to do in that sprint, to sprint review and sprint retrospective.
The Scrum Master, in an organisation with dedicated scrum masters, will interface with the Product Manager and the Product Manager may not necessarily interface a lot with the engineering team.
On the other hand, when it comes to designing requirements and specifications, a Product Manager needs to know what’s feasible in terms of what’s available, what technology stack is best to meet the needs of the business, which means some interface with the engineering team is essential to figuring out what the specifications will be, dependent on the technology and tools available.
Who is the Scrum Master?
Scrum is an agile methodology, which is an approach to managing software projects. The Scrum Master runs the scrum ceremonies. Break down this huge roadmap into sprints which may be for an average of 2-4 weeks. During the sprints, the team commits to a fixed number of deliverables over a period. There are regular check-ins to be sure the project is progressing as it should. This is where the daily stand-ups come in. The engineering team will hurdle together with the scrum master to talk about what has been achieved in the past 24 hours, what they plan to achieve in the next 24 hours and also if there are any blockers. The goal is to be proactive and figure out if there any issues that may impede the project from launching as it should.
All the ceremonies including backlog planning, sprint planning, daily stand up are the responsibility of the Scrum Master or the Product Manager.
A week in the Life of a Product Manager
First of all, you have to prioritise. Depending on what your planning cycle looks like. For some companies, it could be quarterly, monthly, bi-monthly, weekly. And then you reprioritise because what tends to happen is that as you learn more as a business, whether from customers or market trends, most of the time you have to reprioritise your road map based on whatever new information you received or it could be that there’s a new market opportunity and it would be interesting to pursue. So as a Product Manager, it’s important that everything that you are working on at every point is aligned with the business’s priorities.
There’s a need to constantly reprioritise to ensure that the priorities for each week are still important.
There’s also the concept of dual-track agile which deals with Discovery and Delivery.
With Discovery, it’s figuring out what should be built next. In this instance, there’s a lot of research, speaking to stakeholders as you try to figure out what the next step is. While Delivery is ensuring that what you’ve already committed to is being delivered as it should.
So both Discovery and Delivery need to be balanced. Obviously, there would be dealing with bugs as they continue to arise. There will be check-ins with other departments as well because it is important to align with other business departments as the product team does not work in isolation. These are a summary of the key activities that a typical week would entail.
For someone trying to make a switch into Product Management, what do they need to do?
Get the basics in terms of knowledge. There are tons of free resources out there regarding Product Management and what it takes to be a Product Manager. So the first thing would be to just enrol for a four or six-week course to understand what Product Management is as a discipline. The next would be to get real experience. Usually, there is a temptation for new Product Managers to feel like they don’t have enough experience to land a product role. But Product Management is one of those disciplines that are very practical. What I would typically advise people is if you have an opportunity to volunteer somewhere, work with people on projects to offer your services just for a short project, do so. The goal is to ideally get as much experience as you possibly can and start applying and reaching out.
If it is for someone leaving school looking for a first job, there are lots of Associate Product Manager roles and so the expectation would be that the Associate Product Manager joining the team would have a lot of learning to do. I think it is one of those disciplines that is really straightforward. Get the practicals in terms of what it takes to work as a Product Manager, how to write specifications documents but if you can, get some practical experience because it does put you at an advantage. Start applying instantly.