Written by Kavindu Narathota
Here’s Why Your Team Needs a Product Manager
Nov 11, 2020 · 4 min read
What does a Product Manager actually do? If you were to ask 10 Product Managers to define their job, you’d likely receive 10 different answers. Why is it so difficult to define a Product Manager’s responsibilities?
In 2012, Ben Horowitz, CEO of Opsware and Co-Founder of Andreessen Horowitz, defined the Product Manager as the “CEO of the product”, which has been the standard for many years.
This definition, while concise, does a good job at highlighting the wide breadth of responsibilities of a Product Manager, including everything from “Motivating the team”, to “Defining the Problem/Product”, to identifying “What success for the product looks like”. While defining the role in this way can help establish a high-level understanding of the role, it only scratches the surface of Product Management.
What's the need?
Team culture and makeup are significant contributing factors to the complexity of the Product Manager’s role. This varies from team to team and depends on a variety of factors, including the complexity of the product, the size of the product team, and the team’s expertise. For example, on a small product team, the Product Manager will, out of necessity, need to wear multiple hats to help the team operate effectively. As the organization grows however, and hires contributors in more specialized roles, the Product Manager’s priorities shift to more effectively navigate the team towards the desired outcomes. They leverage their negotiation and motivation skills to drive the team, balance business and customer needs, and achieve an outcome to build a great product.
Product Manager vs. Product Owner
Finally, the difficulties of overlapping roles and responsibilities. There has been a long lasting debate on the difference in responsibilities between a Product Manager and a Product Owner. In general, the Product Manager is the one that usually defines the product mission and vision, identifies high level problems or risks, and defines what success looks like. The Product Owner’s responsibilities are taking those high-level problems and breaking them down to day-to-day activities for the team to run with, whether it be breaking down a single requirement and drafting appropriate stories, or managing the day-to-day backlog.
What we are seeing in industry today is that Product Owner is less of a role, but more of a responsibility. Product Managers that do exceptional in scaling and managing the team, can empower the team members to wear the Product Owner hat. As an example, if you are managing a team with multiple components, you can get team members to take responsibility for each component. That way, the Product Manager is empowering the team members to take ownership of the work and represent themselves as leaders.
In 2011, Martin Eriksson, founder of ProductTank, introduced this Venn diagram. It was the catalyst to heavy debate and significantly misunderstood.
Martin defines Product Management as the intersection of User Experience, Business, and Technology. A lot of people have misinterpreted this as a Project Management function. Basically as a person who sits in the middle and facilitates all 3 departments. But in reality, Martin was trying to highlight one of the most difficult responsibilities of a Product Manager, making great tradeoff decisions. In other words, championing user experiences that are technologically feasible, addressing a business need, all while solving a great customer problem.
To recap, a Product Manager is responsible for the product and its success. They carry out this responsibility by taking a CEO-like responsibility for the product, but without leveraging the authority a CEO might possess. Another key characteristic of a good Product Manager is that they empower the team members to take individual ownership over the product or its components, while the Product Manager can focus on effectively balancing the needs of Engineering, User Experience, and the Business.
Now that we know what a Product Manager adds to a product team, does your project need a Product Manager?
The Product mindset
The main point is the Product mindset. A product, in this sense, is a digital service be it a new platform or a new app, that enables a user to complete some sort of activity. A project is a set of steps necessary to bring the product to a specific outcome. Traditionally, Product Managers have been more project-focused, defining an end deliverable and setting scope at the start of a project then mapping out how to get there. Being more product-focused means looking longer-term at the product and its intended outcomes. It allows the product strategy to flex over time and respond to its ever-changing environment.
Your Product Manager will:
Understand why this solution is being developed and exactly what features will be developed
Apply a value lens, identify both user and business needs to pinpoint key value drivers
Own and communicate the strategic direction, documenting through a product roadmap
Engage stakeholders for buy-in
Focus on customer insights and adapt priorities as necessary
Prioritize features and new ideas based on a measurement framework
Lead the team to overcome obstacles
Provide input on the products’ business case for expected costs and benefits
Use analytical and creative problem-solving skills to deliver valuable outputs
Communicate the progress to stakeholders
Creating a product and taking it to the market is not an easy process. It can involve numerous stakeholders and decision-makers, and countless hours of effort and dedication. Equipping your team with a Product Manager will ensure that the efforts of your team and hours put into imagining, planning, and developing the product will yield a strong business return, and cohesive Customer Experience.
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