Defining the role of a product manager
Below is a playbook I’ve used to describe the responsibilities of a product manager for hiring and professional development purposes.
Product managers wear many hats. First and foremost, you are a member of a cross-functional product development team—a team which you will work to support in a number of ways with your experience with business and technology.
Product managers are responsible for ensuring:
- Their team is rallied behind a unified vision and each member thoroughly understands the impact this vision has on the team, the business, customers and the wider industry.
- Outcomes are prioritised over outputs and scope is lean enough to deliver value without unnecessary effort.
- The product(s) they represent have clearly-defined value propositions which are thoroughly understood by each member of their team as well as all internal and external stakeholders.
- Initiatives are properly scrutinised and considered before they commence and the appropriate documentation (e.g., an initiative brief) has been completed.
- Customer engagement (e.g., customer interviews, site visits) within their team is frequent and productive. Customer needs are considered and form the basis of decision making within the team.
- Upcoming work and progress on work is shared frequently and clearly with the wider organisation, particularly key stakeholders.
- Data is intelligently and transparently consulted to aid decision making wherever possible.
- Features and products are released with minimal friction.
- The business (e.g., sales, marketing, customer support) has an understanding of their product and its features and is capable to support and sell it.
Build, measure & learn to make complex easy.
- Help your team to define outcome-centric initiatives, user stories and tasks, aligned to the vision, values and measures to which your team is aligned.
- Define success and failure measures, and ensure every completed task and initiative is measured and assessed by this criteria.
- Document and regularly share learnings with your team and the wider business.
- Demonstrate and reflect on value delivered, or undelivered.
- Encourage your team to embrace complexity and remove uncertainty through experimentation.
- Encourage a culture of learning and sharing. Every initiative or task is an experiment to be validated.
Bring value to market
Your team is accountable for the adoption and utilisation of the products and features you develop. The buck stops with you, so you need to:
- Ensure the wider business understands how your product works, who it’s intended for and the benefits it delivers. Personally involve yourself in efforts to demonstrate and expose what you are building.
- Provide marketing and sales with the information they require to execute launch campaigns and ongoing marketing/sales efforts.
- Test solutions with customers and prospects.
- Measure the outcomes of what is being built.
- Practice radical transparency with your colleagues, especially when it comes to data and other information you may have special access to.
- Be frugal and pragmatic. Cutting scope is a good thing, we’re looking for outcomes, not lines of code.
Communication and visualisation
In case it’s not already apparent—transparency is key. You are responsible for:
- Clearly and regularly communicating development milestones, key decisions and customer insights, to stakeholders.
- Experimenting with and finding effective ways to visualise and disseminate information.
- Keep your team in the loop. We work hard to give our teams as much autonomy as possible, but sometimes priorities will change for reasons outside of their control. You need to ensure they don’t feel caught off guard.
- You are the face of your product(s) and will be required to regularly represent your product(s) to various audiences including your team, the wider business, partners, customers, prospects and industry peers.
You must bridge the gap between your team and the customer:
- Engage with those who speak more regularly with customers (e.g., customer success, support, sales).
- Cut out the middleman. Go see your customers in person and contact them over the phone.
- Find quantitative ways to engage. Interviews and surveys are great, but also consider how you can analyse the data we have (e.g., support tickets, ideas, phone calls, bug submissions) to understand the market.
- Represent the business and the user, but don’t monopolise your insights. Don’t just represent the needs of external parties—expose your team to these parties. Your team should be able to prioritise work without you.
Product managers come with a range of strengths and weaknesses. When building a product team, it is important to keep this in mind and hire for complimentary strengths. Neal Cabage’s Product Team Competencies is a fantastic resource to better understand this.
6 March, 2021
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