8 most frequently asked questions about Product Management from non — Product Managers

These are some of the most frequently asked questions I get regarding product management from non product managers.

Photo by Mimi Thian on Unsplash

This is a small attempt to answer some of those questions :

Question 1

What is product management?

Product management is all about building products. The work associated with product management is both strategic and tactical.

  • Building a product strategy to understand the markets and customers that the product shoud serve
  • Identifying the personas, competition, market conditions, go to market strategy etc.
  • Defining the product roadmap i.e. what & by when the product team will build
  • Being the conduit between various desciplines such as engineering teams, sales, marketing, legal, user design, user research, support, partner teams etc.
  • Product managers build products. are responsible for guiding the success of a product and leading the team that is responsible for improving it.

Question 2

What is the role of a product manager?

Some argue that product managers are mini-CEOs while others beg to differ. The answer is that “it depends”. Most product managers when they begin their careers focus on a feature. They may graduate to owning multiple features. As they grow in the role, they may own an entire product or a suite of products.

A product manager at any level is responsible for partners, customers, product, competition, and the team. What may change is the scope of influence e.g. as a beginner a product manager may be only responsible for learning from partners. As one grows, the product manager may be responsible for building partner ecosystems. A beginnner product manager may be responsible for understanding the competition’s product offering to identify table stakes. As one grows, the product manager may be repsonsible for building appropriate product strategy to predict and react to changes in competition.

Question 3

How is product management different from project management?

First of all, let us acknowledge that project management is different from product management.

A project manager could be in any stream or industry i.e. one could be a project manager for building a dam, launching a satellite, or migrating desktops from Windows 7 to Windows 10 (Windows 7 support ends on Jan 14, 2020 so if you are still on Windows 7, you should go find a project manager).

At a very high level a project manager is responsible for creation and execution of plans that have been developed and approved. The responsibilities typically include initiation, planning, budgeting, design, execution, monitoring, controlling and closure on the project. Project managers might contribute as individuals or can be in charge of a team to get the job done.

On the other hand product managers drive the development of products. They prioritize initiatives and make strategic decisions about what gets built. They are often considered to be the CEOs of a product line. Especially in the software industry there are product managers for various product feature capabilities e.g. someone in Microsoft may be a product manager for calculator in Windows, there is a product manager for the bing search, there would also be a product manager in medium who manages your reading experience on this blog. Interestingly, a product manager may also put on a project manager’s hat while building software products. Most product managers operate as individual contributors but have an ecosystem of experts such as designers, researchers, engineering team etc. to work with.

Question 4

What is the difference between a technical product manager, product manager, and program manager?

This definition may change from one organization to another. Few organizations identify a product manager as one who interacts with the customers and translates the customer’s stated and unstated needs into a product spec. Think of product spec as a detailed document that anyone can read and understand what product to build, why to build, how to product, and how would it help the customers and the business.

Few organizations have a separate technical product manager who may have a technical background and is primarily responsible for interacting with the engineering team to translate the product spec to an actual product. The technical product managers understands the company’s technology at a deep level and can translate the business needs to technical specs.

There are few organizations that do not separate the technical product manager and product manager roles. E.g. in Microsoft a program manager often plays the role of a product manager and a technical product manager.

Question 5

What is the difference between a product manager and a product marketing manager?

Both product manager and product marketing manager are critical for the success of a product and are primarily driven by the stated and unstated needs of the customers, but their responsibilities may be different.

A product manager is responsible for the WHY do we have to build, HOW do we have to build, WHAT do we have to build, WHEN do we have to build of a product. A product manager is responsible for the success of the product from it’s inception to usage.

A product marketing manager, (PMM) as the name suggests, is responsible for HOW to market the product to the customer. A PMM may define the go to market strategy of a product, may work with sales to close on deals, may share insights on the market and competition with the product managers etc. Basically a PMM may influence prioritization of product features and is involved in having deeper relations with the customers to position the product capabilities appropriately.

E.g. Let’s say the Product Manager of Medium created this beautiful reading experience for us to read. A product marketing manager who works closely with data scientists can suggest embedding mathematical formulas in the medium editing experience since the documents that data scientists write, require math notations. There may be a PMM in Medium for enterprises who would be trying to device a go to market strategy for “Medium for enterprises”.

In few organizations or products you may not find a separate role for product marketing managers since that role is performed by product managers.

Question 6

Do I need to know technology to become a good product manager?

If you are a technical product manager then the answer is yes. Or I should say if you are a product manager with a technology company (which is pretty much any company on the planet) you need to know technology. Now the question is what should you know in technology and how deep?

As a product manager, you need to understand what technologies are being used, what they’re capable of and how can you use technology to solve real life customer problems. E.g. let’s say you have to build a quick experimental product for your startup to differentiate between spam mails and good mails. Will you use a rule based engine or machine learning? As a product manager, you should be able to think critically of possible technical options laid down by engineering teams and identify the most optimum technical design that helps deliver customer value while keeping business objectives in mind. For you to be able to have the ability to question the technical design, you should be able to understand technology deep enough to be able to even ask a relevant question. Let me take another generic example to explain. Let’s say you are a product manager for Netflix and you have to ensure that once a user clicks on a video, it starts streaming within 2 seconds. How would you accomplish this?

Question 7

I don’t have product management experience. Can I become a product manager?

The answer to this question lies with you. How eager are you to become a product manager? Let’s say you are working in banking and what to join a product company as a product manager. You need to identify two things:

  1. What are the skills as a banker that you bring to the table as a product manager?
  2. What are the skills that you need to acquire to become a good product manager?

Now the question really is that how do you bridge that gap and in what duration? The best way to bridge that gap is by practicing product management. You could try few things

  1. Read on product management. There are enough blogs and books on it.
  2. Try internship in a product firm. This may appear difficult but you may want to leverage your network to help you here.
  3. Maybe create a product on your own, to experience the traversies of product management first hand ☺
  4. Find a mentor who can help you clarify your doubts whenever you get stuck. Having difficulty finding a mentor? Read this.

This is a lot of effort and a lot of work. But if you are really passionate about the space then this investment would pay off.

Question 8

How can MBA help in becoming a good product manager?

MBA is like a buffet system where learning is served in abandunce but you need to be smart at what you want to consume to maximize satisfaction.

There are few genre of subjects that I learnt that gave me great insights on product management as a whole:

  1. Any subject on entrepreneurship: Though I am a strong believer that entrepreneurship cannot be taught but at least subjects on entrepreneurship help you understand the hardships failures and success stories of entrepreneurs and you can relate to those stories as a practicing product manager.
  2. Subjects that discuss customers, customer mindset, pricing, and products in general will help understand the science of humans thinking. Did you know losing $10 is way more painful than the earning $100. This may help you design your marketing strategy.
  3. Subjects on statistics, data management, data modeling, and data visualization can really help you play with user telemetry and generate insights or correlations from customer intelligence.
  4. Subjects on organizational behavior are critical for a good product manager. As a PM you do not have authority i.e. your team may not report to you therefore you need to master the art of influencing while.enauring the team looks up to you as a team leader. It is no doubt a mini CEO role that requires impeccable team management skills.

In addition, product organizations go to MBA schools to find product managers. Therefore, if you are not a product manager, this may be a good opportunity to showcase your capabilities to the product organizations visiting you.

Books that can help

Adding this section to the blog based on comments. Refer to the link to view some books that helped me in my journey of product management.

If you have any other questions that you would like me to answer then please leave a comment below.

If any insight or information was handy then leave a clap so that I know whether I was able to add value.

Trying to make a small impact one post at a time. Follow on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/sandeepchadda/ Twitter: https://twitter.com/sandeepchads

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