“What Do You Do Again?” – Tips to Explain the Product Manager Role

Strategies Explain Product Manager Role

“What Do You Do Again?”

As a Product Manager you’ve probably heard this one more times than you can count.

One of the common challenges with Product Management is that co-workers and other departments in your organization don’t know what a Product Manager does. They have either never worked with Product Management before, or have a misperception of what Product Managers do from another company. If you are transitioning into a PM role, people may also expect you to do many or all things you were previously responsible for.

The downsides of all these scenarios are that:
a) you can be consumed doing reactive, tactical tasks that are not very impactful to your business, and
b) not driving proactive strategic activities that positively impact your company and your customers.

You can address this challenge by taking the following steps.

First, make sure that you and your direct management are clear on the responsibilities for your PM role. The details can vary by company, and product team. Variations include if you are also the Product Marketing Manager, or the Product Owner. Also make sure you both are clear on the Product Process that is in place for your company. If an established process is not in place, consider starting with the 280 Group Optimal Product Process. Assuming that these items are defined, let’s move on to communicating with and educating others in your company.

Let’s do Lunch

Identify the departments that you interact with in the course of the Product Management process. Likely candidates include Development, Marketing, Senior Management, and Sales. Others could include Operations, Support, Legal, and Finance. Identify the senior manager in each department and work to develop a formal and informal relationship with them.

The next step is to invite each manager to a 1:1 face to face lunch. Your objectives are to introduce yourself and provide a high level description of what your role entails. You want to better understand what their organization does and what their challenges are with the Products and Services in the company. Then discuss how you can better work together in the future. As part of this last point, request a 10 minute slot in an upcoming staff meeting for that organization. You will spend 5 minutes describing the role of PM, and 5 minutes for open Q&A from their team.

Stump Speech at Staff Meetings

Be prepared with a short 3-slide presentation deck that is your Product Management stump speech. Included in this deck are: 1) Overview of what a PM is responsible for, 2) Diagram of the Product Process used at your company, and 3) Roadmap of the next 120 days in the life of your product.

Overview of Product Management responsibilities

  • Achieve financial goals for the product
  • Meet or exceed customers’ expectations
  • Drive the Product Process tasks within each phase
  • Facilitate decision making at each phase to reduce risk and improve success

Product Process Diagram

  • Refer to the 280 Group Optimal Product Process diagram.
  • Key points to discuss:
    • Strategic and Tactical portions of the process
    • Different phases starting with Conceive & Plan. Develop & Beta. Launch, etc.
    • At each phase you will be working cross-functionally. Highlight their department.
    • At the end of each phase will be key exit criteria and decisions

Next 120 Days Roadmap

  • Depending on where you are in the Product Process:
    • Identify the phase you are currently in, when it ends.
    • Identify the activities you are currently engaged in. e.g. Market research
    • Discuss the upcoming milestones and/or decisions that you are driving.

Wander Around

After you have developed a working relationship with the Senior and Middle management in the different departments, stay visible. Set aside some time each week to visit the department and walk the halls. Get to know the Executive assistants. See people in action in their actual work environments. Engage in conversation, be curious what they are up against, and address questions they ask of you.

Be the Spokesperson

Every month or so, send out an email (or intranet blog post) update to these groups on what’s going on in your Product space. Great topics are Market News, Customer visit summaries, Competitive News. Also cover recent activities and decisions related to your product. Upcoming milestones such as Beta programs, Launch, new customer deals are interesting.

In summary, the above proactive steps that you can take will establish your role as you want it to be versus a lack of definition or a misperception. You are educating others about the Product Process and letting them know what to expect in the future. It also builds relationships with key people in different departments that grease the wheels when you need collaboration and support. You are setting expectations with them for mutual success of your product.

In short, explaining and evangelizing your role is part of being a Product Leader.

What are your thoughts? We’d love to hear from you.

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