The Role of a Product Manager

I’ve often thought that the role of a software Product Manager came about from companies discovering all of the things that weren’t done that resulted in slow software releases and poor sales.

Built a great product but nobody wants it? Why didn’t somebody figure that out ahead of time?

Started out creating product A, but three years later product K was released to tepid acceptance? What happened in between?

Built an allegedly great product but competitors already have a better version out there? Didn’t someone think of benchmarking the competition?

Why did we price our product 1.5X greater than the next-highest competitor? And with fewer features?

Who let the developers design the product? They have no idea how customers use the product!

I imagine these various conversations occurring and gradually the role became official. From market research to marketing strategies, from managing dev teams to running beta tests, from talking to irate customers to training the sales team, I’ve performed pretty much the whole gamut of Product Management functions.

You know what? I like it! Where else can you be at the epicenter of a new product, from concept through development to launch and beyond, working with every major discipline in the organization? It’s hard work and a lot of fun.

There are a couple of key attributes a Product Manager must have.

  • Willing to talk to customers–and LISTEN to them
  • Constant appetite to learn about the market and the competition
  • Willing to be wrong
  • Willing to work closely with developers–who don’t think anything like customers
  • Certainty that what he’s asking Dev to create is what will sell
  • Ability to write (at least in rough draft) spec sheets and product descriptions
  • Diplomacy to get everyone who doesn’t work for him (or her) to do a great job
  • Drive to make a great product
  • Knowledge of what a great product consists of–and how to make it
  • Tolerance for when everything goes to hell to not run and hide
  • Ability to multi-task with the best of them
  • A sense or a knack for Marketing
  • And above all, a passion for not only Product Management but the field he (or she) is in.

    There are many great books and courses on the role of Product Management and how to be a Product Manager. I always took the view that if no one else in the company was doing it, the Product Manager got stuck with it. If the success or failure of a product lies in the hands of the Product Manager, and I believe it does, an important job not done means the product may fail.

    Obviously one person can’t spec the product, write the code, test the code, create the website, do the sales, pay the bills and sweep the floors. But if there’s a key person not on board, like a Marketing Director, then the PM better be jumping all over HR and filling in as needed to ensure the product launch is marketed correctly.

    I like to think that a good Product Manager is the godfather of a product. He’s overseeing and directing and making decisions that impact the product and its release. He uses his benevolence when necessary and his firm hand when required. He knows what needs to be done to get a great product out the door and knows how to respond to threats from competitors, some of whom may not be friendly at all.

    The Role of the Product Manager is do define, develop, build, release, market and sell great products that do well in the marketplace. Done well, a Product Manager can lead a product towards viral growth, with the resultant personal, professional and financial rewards for all involved.

    It’s a great job. Do it well.

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