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Explaining What You Do: A Product Manager’s Perspective

Guest post by Jeremy Waxman, Senior Product Manager at Dell

Two of the most common questions asked of product management professionals are what is a product manager and what do they do? The answers to these questions can be tough and vary greatly because there are multiple ways to define the role of product management within an organization.  In addition, actual responsibilities can differ from person to person even within the same organization.  However, the core structure of a product management organization should always remain constant regardless of company or industry.  The following terms provide some common strategic basis to assist a product manager in answering the previously stated tough questions.

Crystal. A product manager must be effective in using a crystal ball and must be crystal clear.

A product manager drives the roadmap as well as the organization forward by understanding multiple areas including, but not limited to: competitive landscape, market analysis, innovation, and company goals & objectives.  Combining all of the components together enables a product manager to look into their crystal ball to decide what is needed for organizational success.  While developing this “crystal ball mentality” from technology partners to sales & marketing to operations to executives, a product manager makes every effort to avoid surprises.  By involving as many of their stakeholders as early as possible in the product management process and by being crystal clear, they provide the proposed product and the product management organizational visibility and avoid the dreaded “why this product” or “why this direction” questions.  This preparation and research are vital to the project manager’s success, since a product manager will always remain flexible, but stopping a train in motion and turning it completely around is a very difficult task at best.

Important Bull (“ble(s)”). A product manager always develops products that are viable, flexible, sustainable, capable, and attainable.

No matter what phase of the product management process, a product manager focuses on a viable solution that is attainable in the limited amount of time and resources provided.  The product manager also ensures that the product is flexible and able to adapt to ever changing industry and company goals and incorporates a sustainable product lifespan.  When moving through the creation phase a product manager ensures that the available development resources, either internal or external, are capable of delivering the solution requested and the solution is attainable within the resource, timeline or product constraints.  Considering the important “Bull” throughout the process enables the product manager to have long-term success and helps define their role within the organization.

End2End Glue. The product manager is the glue that holds an organization together.

From concept to post-launch support, the product manager owns the product even if it is not in their job description.  No matter how it is sliced, in-bound, out-bound, or both, product management is the glue between product development and all of the internal and external business touch points and interfaces.  It is important to remember that the product manager is responsible for the product, in every way.

Distributed Responsibility, but Overall Accountability. A Product manager is accountable for all of the results of a product offering.

In most every situation, any result (either positive or negative), can be traced back to the product manager.  The challenge of a product manager, therefore, is to pre-plan for mitigating any negative impacts that may occur.  From development to collateral generation to support, the product manager may have little direct responsibility, but is accountable for virtually everything as a whole. All situations can be traced to product management as the source, such as:

Revenue/Operational Expense

Positive:  Increased revenue and/or decreased operational expense as a result of an accurate & effective business case

Negative:  Revenue expectations are not met and/or there is an increased operational expense caused by unrealistic expectations or projections and inaccurate business case

Developed Solution

Positive:   The solution functions as expected when launched is a result of detailed and effective requirements created using an iterative approach with the development team.

Negative:  An inaccurate solution with high-severity defects caused by inaccurate and incomplete requirements documentation.

Launch Timelines

Positive:  A project launched on-time and within budget caused by a successful and impactful interlock with the development organization in an iterative manner.

Negative:  The launched is delayed and comes in well over budget as a result of the “throw requirements over the fence” approach caused by little to no interlock with development.

>From software development to pharmaceutical product manufacturing, product management is just that – managing the product.  The strategic components can be adapted and applied, regardless of the industry and assist in answering the questions of what is a product manager and what do they do?

BIO

Jeremy J Waxman is a seasoned, results-centric Product Management and Product Marketing executive.  Currently the Sr. Product Manager for Payments, Services & Communications at Dell, Jeremy has extensive experience in the software and payments space.  Prior to Dell, Jeremy built and managed product management and product marketing teams at various small software companies working with some of the largest financial institutions in the United States including Bank of America, Chase, American Express, Western Union, and Capital One.

3 Responses to Explaining What You Do: A Product Manager’s Perspective

  1. Julia Apr 18, 2011 at 1:27 pm #

    You’ve got my synapses firing, Jeremy. Engaging in the big-picture stuff at the beginning to mitigate disaster down the road…amen! My challenge? Giving the right level of detail to customer-facing partners. Too much detail and they check out and think the product is too complex. Not enough and they feel uncertain.

  2. Brian Lawley Apr 18, 2011 at 3:10 pm #

    The End2EndGlue part is SO important. No one person in the company has insight into all of the aspects surrounding the product. Engineeering can deliver a great product, but without the right support, a sales force that is armed to sell it, great product reviews, the right support from operations, etc. the product may fail nonetheless.

  3. Jen Berkley Jackson May 30, 2011 at 1:20 am #

    Excellent article! This really sums it up…with the overarching need to do all of this extremely well via ‘influence vs. authority’. THAT is true art…those that facilitate others to deliver on the various elements required to manage a product are the best product managers out there!

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