Who is a Product Manager?

There is an identity crisis. Who is John Galt?

I came across a question on LinkedIn – Why do you think the role of product manager is so misundestood?

Screen Shot 2018-05-18 at 4.39.51 PM.png

In every company, there are people dedicated to specific activities of building, communicating about and selling products. We find these people in R&D, marketing and sales teams. In contrast, the activities of managing a product are not explicitly defined or consistently understood, nearly not as well as building, communicating and selling.

Yes, I know we have teams of product managers and job descriptions for the role, but rest assured no one other than aspiring or current product managers looking for product management jobs is reading them!

“Why do we need a Product Manager?”

In my past, I came across an engineering leader who did not believe he needed a product manager. He and his team knew what needed to be built. They didn’t need anyone telling them. They were the experts. After all, they had “forgotten more than a new product manager could possibly ever know”! This story had a happy ending as he and I are good friends now!

But this just illustrates that people like my friend have questions such as – “Why do we need a product manager?” and “What is a product manager going to do?” You might find it surprising that these questions even exist, given the amount of ink spilt on product management as a whole. But they do.

Forget Product Manager, What is Product Management Even?

What does it even mean to manage a product?

There is not enough clarity and consistentcy about Product Management itself.

I wrote about this earlier (What IS Product Management, really?). TL;DR: Product Management is not a only a role or a function in a company, but it is a process of managing value. The Product Manager is the master orchestrator of this process.

“I am a Product Manager”

Do this test. Ask people in engineering, marketing and sales what they do. See how they introduce themselves.

Engineer: “I am a machine learning engineer”, or “I am a UI developer” or “I am a data scientist”

Marketing: “I run our marketing and communications” or “I work on branding”

Sales: “I am an account executive” or “I pay your salary” 😉 (Yes, I’ve heard this one!)

We kinda get what all of the above mean. We have seen enough examples of these types of people. Plus, all of the sentences above sound important. Engineer and machine learning, freaking awesome! Data Scientist, amazing! Branding, exciting! Sales, wow!

Now see how a product manager introduces herself.

Product Manager: “I am a product manager”.

But, what does that mean?

Product Manager, oh ok! People politely nod their head and don’t ask anything further, but it’s clear as mud.

Yes others have also seen enough examples of product managers, but they all have a different idea of what such people do. Six blind men and the elephant.

Don’t Just Say You are a Product Manager

The label “Product Manager” itself is a bit vague. The label is part of the industry lexicon so nothing we can do to change that. Besides, with product names like Ecoxgear Ecoxbt (it’s a waterproof bluetooth speaker), the technology product industry in general is not very good at naming 🙂 But I digress.

So how should product managers introduce themselves? Introductions are not just for social occasions. Introductions make the other person sit up and take notice. They help a product manager establish her identity.

When you meet family and friends, don’t just say you are a product manager.

When you meet customers and partners, don’t just say you are a product manager.

Even to other employees of your own company, you get it…don’t just say you are a product manager.

Don’t even say something like, “I am the Product Manager for SAP Analytics Hub”.

Ok, if your product is a household name, you can say, “I am the product manager for Gmail” and watch people’s eyebrows jump a few feet off their face.

But for all the unsung product manager heroes and heroines, how should we introduce ourselves instead? What do we want people to know about us and who we are?

Clearly we don’t want to make an introduction such as “I am the CEO of SAP Analytics Hub” 🙂

Who is a Product Manager? It surely cannot be as rhetorical as asking, “Who is John Galt?”

The Product Manager’s Identity

Let’s look at a few potential introductions. Obviously it depends on our audience.

To friends and family, you could say –

“I am a Product Manager at SAP. My job is to understand the problems companies like Bank of America face with managing huge amount of data and define solutions to make them successful”.

Mom loves you even more!

Yes it’s a mouthful as compared to “I am a Data Scientist” but just saying “I am a Product Manager” is not exciting anybody. So you owe it to yourself to make an impactful introduction.

To customers and partners, who are generally familiar with your company and your product, you could say –

“I am the Product Manager responsible for making sure SAP Analytics Hub is successful for you”.

One of two things will happen. They may say – “Well, it’s not very successful right now”. That’s a great lead in for you to say “Pray, tell me more”, and it will lead to an amazingly rich conversation. Or they may say – “Great, we love SAP Analytics Hub”. That’s a great opportunity to understand exactly why they love it. (Confession: I have used this line and it worked very well. Try it for yourself).

To employees of your own company, who you might meet for the first time:

“I am the Product Manager responsible for making our SAP Analytics Hub product successful.”

Bottomline, you are making others successful. That’s your identity, in a nutshell. It’s sufficient to let them know you are someone to not take lightly.

After all, your company has entrusted you with the job of making something or someone successful.

Don’t worry about your own success. Don’t worry whether you are under-appreciated or unsung.

The tiny violins and sad music will turn into an amazing orchestra when you make your customers successful, your engineers successful, your marketers and sales people successful, and ultimately, your product successful.

My key takeaways:

  1. People need to have a good consistent understanding of what product management is. Product management is not just a role and function, it is a process.
  2. Product Managers need to establish an identity for themselves.
  3. Saying “I am a Product Manager” does nothing to establish that identity.
  4. A product manager is responsible for the success of customers, engineers, marketers, sales and, ultimately, the product. Making others successful is a powerful identity to own.

Good luck! Love to hear your thoughts.


Has Product Management really been “Historically Reactive and Gut-Driven”?

I imagine many of us get emails about upcoming webinars from time to time. I got one such email today, and the first sentence paused me in my tracks.

Product Management has historically been reactive and gut-driven.

And then the email talked about how Agile Product Management and an experimentation-driven approach can deliver “obvious and immediate” value to users.

For a few moments, I was surprised that this hit a nerve somewhere and that I took exception to that characterization of Product Management. After all, email copy is designed to get attention and elicit a response. And whoever wrote this email ensured that happened by making a dramatic opening statement! Kudos! At the same time, the above sentence felt a little bit to be a case of product management schadenfreude!

To take a historical perspective of Product Management, one has to start with the now famous 1931 memo written by Neil McElroy at P&G, articulating the role of a “Brand Man”.

The memo even references the popular E-word, EXPERIMENT, when it calls out a brand man must “Experiment and recommend wrapper revisions“. Doing experiments, all the way back in 1931! Who would’ve thunk it?! This is anything but reactive and gut-driven!

Following from this legacy of the “Brand Man” at P&G, technology product management has surely come a long way. We’ve all embraced Agile product management and the Lean Startup. These are great evolutions to ensure we build the right product for the right people because life is too short to do otherwise.

Now look, we know there are good product managers and bad product managers (ht: Ben Horowitz). We can laugh at ourselves when the joke’s on us (ht: Scott Adams/Dilbert).

But calling Product Management historically reactive and gut-driven is a tad bit unfair to the legacy of Neil McElroy!

The responsibilities of the “Brand Man” align closely with what Product Manager must do to be successful in her role. Let’s take a closer look.

Brand Man: Study carefully shipments of his brand by units.

Product Manager: Understand the market performance of the product – customer acquisition metrics, whether that is hardware units shipped, software licenses sold, app downloads, etc.

Brand Man: Examine carefully the combination of effort that seems to be clicking and try to apply this same treatment to other territories that are comparable. When brand development is light, study the territory personally at hand – both dealers and consumers – in order to find out the trouble.

Product Manager: Conduct Win-Loss Analysis with customers. Analyze wins to help understand how success can be replicated within the same segment, extended to other segments. Understand why some sales teams and partners are more successful and extend to others. Analyze losses to help understand trouble spots for improvement across the spectrum of product, competitive positioning, go to market, pricing, pre-sales and sales.

Brand Man: After uncovering our weakness, develop a plan…It is necessary…to not simply work out the plan but also to be sure that the amount of money proposed can be expected to produce results at a reasonable cost per case.

Product Manager: Define a strategy to grow the business. Create market forecast for the product. Create an investment case, ensuring it meets the Finance team’s criteria for IRR (internal rate of return).

Brand Man: Outline this plan in detail to the Division Manager under whose jurisdiction the weak territory is, obtain his authority and support for corrective action.

Product Manager: Work with the General Manager of the business unit, and other cross functional executives to get buy-in for the strategy and the plan. Make compelling and effective presentations to senior executives. Tell a story and not just dump data on the audience.

Brand Man: Prepare sales helps and all other necessary material for carrying out the plan. Pass it on to the districts. Work with the salesmen while they are getting started. Follow through to the very finish to be sure that there is no let down in the sales-operation of the plan.

Product Manager: Work with Product Marketing and Sales to enable sales teams and partners with the necessary assets, e.g., business sales tools such as ROI calculator, reference customer case studies, sales battle cards, etc., and technical sales tools such as technical white paper, deployment guidelines, etc. Own the demo. Double up as the sales engineer on the first few customer deals. It is imperative for a Product Manager to know the sales process, pipeline and funnel characteristics for her product.

Often in my conversations with CTOs, GMs, VPs of Engineering, one common criticism of Product Managers that comes up is that PMs only focus on the engineering of the product, and do not pay as much attention to or engage with go to market and sales functions.

Brand Man: Take full responsibility, not simply for criticizing individual pieces of printed copy, but also for the general printed word plans for his brands.

Product Manager: Develop the positioning statement for the product. Understand and influence how this positioning translates into product briefs – data sheets, brochures, web site copy, etc. How the value proposition of the product is communicated is an important aspect of how customers perceive the product. This is not to be looked at the Product Marketing Manager’s job. The phrase “Take full responsibility” is key.

Brand Man: Experiment with and recommend wrapper revisions.

Product Manager: The high order bit here is, of course, the word ‘Experiment’. Develop hypotheses to test assumptions. Define experiments to test hypotheses. Track and measure the results of the experiments, incorporate learnings and iterate. Classic Build-Measure-Learn loop, evidence-led product development.

Brand Man: See each District Manager a number of times a year to discuss with him any possible faults in our promotion plans for the territory.

Product Manager: In enterprise B2B segments, a Product Manager should stay engaged with sales and channel leaders of various geos and territories to stay up to date on customer needs, key accounts, sales pipeline, and ensure the right go to market strategy is in place for that geo.

Brand Man: When the brand men have approached their fullest responsibilities, they should be able to take from the shoulders of the Division Managers…a heavy share of individual brand responsibility.

Product Manager: Good Product Managers move up to become General Managers and CEOs. We have enough examples of that, and not just in technology. Indra Nooyi, CEO of PepsiCo started her career as a Product Manager. Do I hear “CEO of the Product”? Now some people may take exception to that. Product Managers who have the CEO mindset take full responsibility and hold themselves accountable for the success of their product. They don’t care about fancy labels, titles and entitlement. We can talk endlessly about why the Product Manager is not the CEO of the product but that debate is silly IMHO. It’s about the mindset. Those who have the growth mindset act differently than those who have a fixed mindset.


Thanks for reading!

Why Has Business Education Failed Business

This article [Want to Kill Your Economy? Have MBA Programs Churn out Takers Not Makers] by Rana Foroohar based on her book “Makers & Takers: The Rise of Finance and Fall of American Business” talks about the state of business education in the US. For my friends in India, I am curious to know if you think this applies to the state of Indian business education as well. The main points in the article:

1 MBA education is basically an education in finance, not business. MBA programs don’t churn out innovators well prepared to cope with a fast-changing world.

2 Business schools by and large teach an extremely limited notion of “value,” and of who corporate stakeholders are. Many courses offer a pretense of data-driven knowledge without a rigorous understanding and analysis of on-the-ground facts. Students are given little practical experience but lots of high-altitude postulating.

3 The greatest percentage of those who receive an MBA degree end up not in industry, but in some area of finance. Given the six figure cost of an MBA education, it is not so much a choice but a necessity for many students.

4 Many of America’s iconic business leaders believe an MBA degree makes you less equipped to run a business well for the long term, particularly in high-growth, innovation-driven industries like pharmaceuticals or technology, which depend on leaders who are willing to invest in the future.

5 MBAs are everywhere, yet the industries where you find fewer of them tend to be the most successful. America’s shining technology and innovation hub—Silicon Valley—is relatively light on MBAs and heavy on engineers.

This is the very reason that Institute of Product Leadership decided to change the notion of what business education means for technology product leaders. Our strong belief is that the curriculum has to be relevant, experiential and practical to the industry.

I hope this gives a little more context to the EMBA in Product Leadership program at IPL, offered in partnership with two leading universities in Bangalore, CMR University & PES University. We recently kicked off the 8th batch of the program in India with professionals from companies like Cognizant, GE Digital, Visa, Qualcomm, Sony, Intel, Oracle, Siemens, Amazon, McAfee, and more.

We are grateful to our university partners, students, alumni, executive faculty, speakers and coaches, who have joined hands in this mission to make a difference in business education and help grow the next generation of product leaders in India.

The Problem We Solve is the Question We Ask

Just before 2017 came to an end, a Google Internet connectivity balloon crashed in Kenya and landed in a farm. As the article states, it caused a little panic. Fortunately, there was no damage to life or property. Most of us are familiar with what Google has been doing with balloons, but this prompted digging a little deeper. Continue reading

Looking Back to Look Forward in 2018

The year is winding down. Perhaps you have a crackling fireplace going. Perhaps there is a beautifully decorated tree in the corner with boxes of gifts around it, all waiting to be opened. As you sip or swill that eggnog, or your favorite beverage, it’s as good a time as any to ask – So…what does a product leader look forward to in 2018?

Really? I hear a groan in my own head. Can’t we just enjoy this time of the year without talking shop? We delivered great products this year. Net Promoter Score (NPS) from customers was very high. Business results were great. Can’t we just kick back and savor the feeling? ‘Tis the season, you know, so what gives?

Fair point. But here we are. Done in by the habit. The habit of looking ahead. We are a tribe of innovators and roadmappers, after all. So let’s try and make this useful rather than just stating the perennial obvious, e.g. in 2018, product managers need to be (even more) customer centric, or Agile. Been there, done that. Right? Right?!!

Let’s also not go down the path of the “Top 10” list. Gartner has defined the Top 10 Strategic Technology Trends for 2018.  


With due respect to Gartner, it has all the technology buzzwords you might expect. Organizations like Gartner have a unique vantage point from which to gaze into the crystal ball. If you are curious, here were Gartner’s Top 10 Strategic Technology Trends for 2017. It reminds me of the game where you see two nearly identical images and have to spot the differences. Very hard to tell!

But what does this mean to us, simple product folk who are trying to build great products for our customers?

What do we look forward to the most?

When I ask this question to current and aspiring product leaders, one recurring theme emerges – LEARN

Learn as much as we can about customers, their challenges. Learn about emerging technologies that keep coming at us, and how they relate to customer scenarios. Learn how to effectively govern our products, engage cross-functional stakeholders. Learn how machines learn! The list goes on.

Learn to unlearn & unlearn to learn!

At the Institute of Product Leadership, it is no secret that we love to learn. Moreover, we strongly believe in Learning By DOING and Learning From People Who DO.

source: enspire


We invite senior executives and experts as guest speakers on our popular Product Leaders webinar series and our Industry Connect Boardroom to Classroom series of lectures on campus to share their knowledge with the community. They help us to look forward.

Steve Jobs said, “You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backward.”

So we decided to look back to some of our popular content of 2017, in case you happened to miss. These are in a variety of areas such as innovation, data science, leadership, product management best practices, strategy, design thinking and go-to-market. We’ve also listed a few articles we liked.

We are extremely grateful to all our esteemed executive guest speakers for sharing their knowledge, experience and time with the Product Leaders community.

Hope you settle into a comfortable chair and enjoy learning!

Product Leader Mindset

source: www.innerdrive.co.uk

Product Management is not just for Product Managers
Raj Yavatkar, SVP of Products, VMWare

Don’t Treat Your Education as an Insurance Policy
Kunal Shah, Founder, FreeCharge


Source: creativemarket.com

Structured Ideation: The Pathway to Innovation
Naveen Lakkur, Cofounder, Values Centered Innovation

Disrupting the Linear
Punit Soni, ex-Google, Motorola, Flipkart

Isaac Asimov asks, “How do People Get New Ideas?”

MIT Technology Review

Design Thinking & UX

Design Thinking for Datasource: howdesign.com Hunter Whitney, Design Strategist, Instructor, Author

5 UX Design Tips Every Product Leader Should Know
Dr. Wayne Neale, GrowthX

Product Development

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What Product Leaders Need to Know About DevOps
Rajesh Raheja, VP Products, CA Technologies

Dual Track Agile – Reality & Hype
Bhushan Shinkre, Product Leader, Amazon

How to Prioritize When Everything is Important
Manisha Gupta, Sr. Director Product Management, Oracle

Emerging Technologies

Product Management in the Era of Data Sciencesource: flaticon.com Mandar Parikh, VP Product Management, Entytle

How AI and ML are Driving GE’s Digital Transformation

Go to Market & Growth Hacking

source: wikipedia

Product Launch Best Practices – Lessons from Silicon Valley
Michael Eckhardt, Managing Director, Chasm Institute

The Power of Thought Leadership
Jamie Barnett, ex-CMO Netskope

Product Manager for Growth – A New Role
Jason Meresman, ex-VP Products,  GrowthHackers.com

source: shareicon.netStrategy & Business Model

A Product Leader’s Playbook for Wicked Hard Decisions
Gib Biddle, ex-VP Products, Netflix

Reinventing Your Business Model
Clayton Christensen (Harvard Business Review)

Leadership Skillssource: cookiecart.org

Effective Frameworks for Memorable & Persuasive Presentations
Nathan Gold, DEMO Coach

Scaling High Growth Organizations
Asif Iqbal, VP Product Management & Engineering, Sunrun


If you came across an article that you truly enjoyed reading and learnt from, do share it in the comments below! Let’s continue to help each other learn as we go.

Our next webinar is on January 9, 2018 with Sagar Apte, CEO of CarIQ, a connected car platform. Sagar will discuss “Does Product Management Adequately Prepare You for a CEO role?” See you there!

Happy Holidays & Wish You the Best in 2018 from all of us at the Institute!


What Can We Learn From The $400 Juicer That’s Supposedly Destroying Silicon Valley?

The BusinessInsider article The evidence is piling up – Silicon Valley is being destroyed seems to have riled up a lot of people. People are at a loss to understand how could the fabled VCs of Silicon Valley invest $120 million in a company that makes a juicer. People are wondering incredulously, there’s an app for that?! Since when did we need an app to drink juice?

Juicero Press Packs

Source: prnewswire

But, this is business as usual as far as I see it. Allow me to explain.

If you have one of these burning questions in your mind, you could just skip to that section, or read on:

Isn’t it just making juice? Hint: Jobs to be done
How is this different? Hint: Value Proposition Design
But $400? Hint: Business Model Innovation
What’s It Worth to You? Hint: Subjective & Objective Value
Still, $120 million in funding? Hint: Market Opportunity
Is Silicon Valley Really Being Destroyed?



People who buy juicers want to, well, drink juice. But that’s just the functional task they engage in.

The motivations to drink juice are all about having a healthy lifestyle, consuming fruits and vegetables, likely of the organic variety, and a juice is the best option for this quick nutrition instead of peeling fruits, cutting them up, and so on. A few gulps and you are on to your next thing. A juicer enables people to get the job done of living a healthy life by consuming more fruits and vegetables. If you are not familiar with jobs to be done, look here.

In the context of doing this job, people face a number of pain points. First we have to drive ourselves to get the specific type of organic fruits and vegetables we want to make juice with. We have to wash, peel, chop to feed them into the juicer. And make sure we don’t overload the juicer or the blades. Then it requires operating the juicer at the right speed, adding the right amount of water, making sure the fruit chunks are nicely blended, too many decisions! And then cleaning up all the mess. All of this for one glass of juice!

The traditional customer experience with drinking juice is a little involved now that we think about it. And nobody is addressing these pains. We have taken these pains for granted and are choosing to live with them because we do not know who can address them for us. This is what Juicero is attempting to do.



So does Juicero have a value proposition that is sufficiently differentiated from the other juicers in the market? Is the Juicero better than other juicers at addressing these jobs?

Here’s a video that explains this better.

No need to go shopping – check.
Not have to worry about juicer settings – check.
Nothing to clean – check.
No mess to clear – check.

There is a clear before and after picture of the customer experience.

Perhaps one of the biggest problems the Juicero solves is that most people don’t end up drinking juice as regularly and frequently as they think they ought to.


BUT $400?

But still, $400 for a juicer? And how much extra do we pay for the juice packs? Whoa, you say! It all adds up.

Let’s look at how the money flows today for us to have the juicing experience we want. The total cost of ownership for drinking juice, is the one time cost of the juicer, and the ongoing cost of buying fruits and vegetables, which today we pay to the grocer.

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Juicero is doing business model innovation to capture all the value in this experience.

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Juicers come at many different price points, all the way from a Black+Decker at $36.86 to a Breville at $600. What we pay for fruits and vegetables is relative based on individual preferences and habits.

But still, it’s just a juicer. I can squeeze fruit with my bare hands and the juice tastes the same. I can even squeeze the same juice packets with hand and the juice tastes the same. So what’s the big deal? 

Good point. If that’s the thought in your mind, I request you to read on.

The real question is:



The acceptance of a product is driven by:

  • How badly do I want it?
  • Does it deliver well on its promise?
  • Is there net benefit to me by having it?

People answer these questions differently, based on how they perceive the product’s utility and value, and that drives what they are willing to pay for it.

You don’t have to have a resounding YES to all three of these questions. If you really truly badly want it, well, you will overlook the deficiencies in the product and also justify the net benefit to yourself 🙂 We’ve all been there (especially those of us who bought the very first Apple Watch ;-)! Nothing wrong with that.

Some elements of value are tangible and measurable, we call that objective value – 0 to 60 mph in 3 seconds. Objective value is verifiable, there is no room to debate it.

Some benefits are very personal, intangible, can’t be measured adequately. That is subjective value – people in India who buy a luxury car that goes 0 to 60 in 3 seconds, even though most times you can’t do that. Try going 0-60 in the picture below 🙂 – but people like to be seen in a car that can go that fast.


Source: cycleworld.com

There is no rational explanation for this other than the fact that it is personal preference, a statement of style or quality of life. It’s different for you from the person next to you. We can debate about it, but there’s no point.

If you thought the iPhone is the premium smartphone in the world, rethink. The Vertu Signature Touch Phone starts at $9,000 and is specifically for “high net worth individuals”. It comes with access to a real-life personal assistant. According to Wikipedia, by the end of 2013, they had 350,000 customers. If that’s one of you, more power to you.

Screen Shot 2017-05-05 at 11.08.27 AM.png

Source: vertu.com

Back to Juicero. Perhaps you are someone who just likes going to the farmer’s market and picking out fruits and vegetables by your own hand – in other words, this is not worth that much to you. Perhaps you don’t, and would just like to have clean, organic produce somehow delivered to you to make juice with.

Perhaps it’s a conversation starter – a flashy new gadget in your swanky new kitchen. After all, Oprah likes it, so does Gwyneth Paltrow and Justin Timberlake too. You are no less either!

Every product and it’s value proposition is meaningful and relevant in the context of its target market and customer segment, and the value they perceive in the product.



Most people who are in disbelief about this juicer, are likely not in the target market. If the founder of Juicero has defined a target customer for his product, and if there are enough of them, more power to him for discovering his prospective customers. If the VCs believe in the market opportunity, more power to them too.

Indeed, this product is launched in an existing market. By some reports, global blenders and juicers market is growing at a 6.5% CAGR and will reach USD 3.3 billion by 2021. Now there are nuances here, home use vs commercial use, etc., but the point is that this is not an alien object.

Here is an entertaining read of competition in this market.

A Product and a Company are two different things. Investors don’t invest in a product, they invest in the company.

This product, the juicer, is just the first instantiation of the company’s vision. Who knows, their roadmap may have plans to go after the commercial market, selling to the juice bar and smoothie industry players like Jamba Juice and Nektar. And there’s always world domination to aspire for!



The author of the Business Insider article makes the argument that Silicon Valley, which was all about innovating to overthrow entrenched interests, is now housing monopolies. He claims that the poster children of Silicon Valley innovation – Apple, Google, Facebook – have all grown up, become too big and stifling innovation. He takes affront at Google “buying” innovation, and building cool technology that isn’t getting deployed. He claims that innovation is now only about waiting to find out if the iPhone will have a bigger screen. He takes issue with the $120 million investment in a juicer, of all things.

First, let’s take the matter of the $120 million investment in a juicer.

Silicon Valley investors like to think of themselves as contrarian. It’s their ability to be contrarian and take meaningful bets against conventional wisdom that actually makes Silicon Valley what it is.

Otherwise who in their right mind would invest in a company that asked if you’d like to spend three nights in a different city in a stranger’s spare bedroom? Against conventional wisdom of the day, but no longer.

It’s not just about the singular product called juicer, as we have said before, but about the shift in customer experience Juicero wants to create, tapping into the desire to live a more healthy life and consume more organic produce on a more regular basis. It’s worth a shot if you buy into that future.

Strike one against the article.

Second, let’s take the matter about monopolistic companies stifling innovation.

There have always been large companies that have loomed on the horizon. Elad Gil’s blog We Will Crush You provides a great perspective on this. It used to be Microsoft back in the day. Today it is Google or Facebook. But that did not stop two guys from figuring out how to solve the problem of communicating with family and friends on another continent a handful of time zones away.

So Google and Facebook acquire “innovation”. So what? Some companies decide to get acquired, some companies don’t. Snapchat didn’t. Market forces play out.

That’s strike two.

Third, let’s take the matter of Silicon Valley innovation being watered down to finding out whether the iPhone will have a bigger display.

This could not be further from the reality on the ground. There is sufficient ground breaking innovation being attempted in areas such as genomics, artificial intelligence, automation and robotics, machine and deep learning, bitcoin and blockchain, virtual and augmented reality. IoT and Big Data have given way to newer buzzwords.

So shall we say strike three?

I am not dismissing the author’s genuine concern about issues of competition, anti-trust, and monopolies. But the claim that Silicon Valley is being destroyed and his criticism of the Silicon Valley ethos of innovation and investment are, IMHO, unfounded.

What do you think?

What IS Product Management, really?


First things first – no, this is not a clickbait headline.

But if you are surprised why this question is even being asked in the first place, let me address that. We have had product management in the industry for a long time now. Proctor & Gamble pioneered the concepts of brand management and market research (“Find out what the customer wants and give it to them.“). The importance of the role was further legitimized at HP and at Apple, where Steve Jobs was the uber Product Manager (“It’s not the customer’s job to know what they want. Customers do not know what they want until you give it to them.“)

With such a storied legacy of Product Management, why this question now?

In our work at the Institute of Product Leadership, working with clients and product professionals across different continents, I get varied answers to this question. These answers can be categorized into following buckets:

  • Location: Sits between all the other functions in the company
  • Mathematical: Three circle Venn diagrams that show product management at the sweet intersection of customer, technology and business. Sometimes UX is thrown into one of the circles.
  • Responsibilities: Mini-CEO of the product, or at times the term product janitor is used depending on how the week has gone 🙂 – but people talk about what a product manager does – understanding customer requirements, working with engineering to get the product built, defining the roadmap, working with marketing and sales, defining strategy.
  • Direction: – Inbound and Outbound.  Bringing customer and market insights INTO the organization, and bringing the product OUT TO the market. People most commonly describe Product Management as inbound and Product Marketing as outbound.

None of these answers are wrong by the way.

They are all valid descriptions about product management and what product managers do. What bothers me is that this question is not answered with any consistency. Isn’t it about time we should be able to do that?


I also find that people working on the same product do not have consistent answers to three important questions.

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It is like the six blind men and the elephant.

The answer to the first question – Who is our product for – does not have too many variances, especially if the product has been in the market for a long time. Customers and users are known, at least minimally by demographic attributes, titles, even if the personas may not have been formally defined, e.g. our customers are hospitals in the US, and our ERP solution is used by hospital administrators.

With the second question – Why do they need it – answers start diverging. This is an indication that the customer’s needs, challenges, expectations are not well understood by the product team, except for only a few people. People are well informed about what the product does, but not why it is needed. So this answer comes in the form of product features and not customer problems, e.g. Hospital administrators need an ERP system to track patient registration, accurate billing, manage patient records, faster information flow between various departments, track purchasing and inventory, etc. But these are not specifically the challenges of the hospital administrators, which may be better expressed as – facing a shortage of skilled healthcare workers, ensuring high patient satisfaction with their experience in various hospital departments, ensuring high quality of outcome and care, keep up with advances in medicine, technology and government regulations, etc.

With the third question – Why do they prefer us – there are even more variances.  Engineers believe their product is far superior because of the latest technology and features. Marketing believes the messaging of the product resonates better with customers. Sales believes they have built long standing relationships with customers because of which customers are willing to look beyond some deficiencies in the product.

If we have to be an optimal product team, we must have consistent and complete understanding of the customer, what they are trying to achieve for which they select our product, and why do they prefer our product over the alternatives. This understanding is not just for a few people, but must percolate across the entire product team.


Fundamentally, our goal is to build the right product for the right customer and be profitable.

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At the Institute, we have a very specific definition of what is Product Management. We anchor this definition around the word VALUE. This word, VALUE, keeps popping up a lot in our work – we define value propositions, customers expect value for money, we talk about customer lifetime value, and so on.

So it makes sense to drill down on this word and understand how VALUE is managed. As a product team, we go through five distinct steps in this process.

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In interacting with customers and learning about their challenges and problems, their expectations, and validating potential solutions, we UNDERSTAND VALUE.

When we define the product, prioritize capabilities, and define a roadmap, we CREATE VALUE.

We understand the customer’s willingness and ability to pay, make strategic decisions about pricing and packaging. We look to CAPTURE VALUE.

We articulate the value proposition in a compelling manner, create the right messages to position the product. We COMMUNICATE VALUE.

We define routes to market, enable sales and channels to sell the product, and support to help customers. We DELIVER VALUE.

So there are five steps in this process of MANAGING VALUE:


Product Management is hence Value Management.

Product Management is a process by which a product team (and not any one individual called the product manager) manages value as it builds the right product for the right customers and becomes sustainable as a profitable business over time.

Product Management is not just the Product Manager’s job. While Product Management is a function on an org chart, first and foremost it is a discipline and a process, which we call the Productizing Process, and the entire product team is part of this process. As a result of having this consistent process, everyone in the product team should be able to take the three question Product Leadership test and answer questions consistently.

The Product Manager is the master orchestrator of this process of managing value.

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We product managers are certainly responsible for understanding our customers and the market to the nth degree. But we do not write code. We certainly have a huge say in what and how the product gets built. We may or may not set pricing, but we definitely need to understand and influence it. We do not create the catchy tag lines nor the glossy visuals, or run the lead generation campaigns that marketing is so good at. We also do not carry a quota for selling the product. There are experts in the company for every aspect of building and selling a product. But the buck stops with the Product Manager as far as the success of the product in the market is concerned.


Products becomes successful when significant positive value is created for customers, and they prefer it overwhelmingly above any other alternative available to them. And it is our job as product managers to manage the process by which we create successful products, rolling up our sleeves and being the product CEO or the product janitor, whatever it takes.

In order to do this well, we have defined a framework with a set of 25 competencies across the Productizing Process – encompassing Market Analysis, Strategic Planning, Product Planning, Go to Market, and Sales Enablement.

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Acquiring these competencies and the associated mindset of a Product Leader are critical to be successful in whichever role we play in the product team – whether as a Product Manager, Product Marketing Manager, Engineer, or QA.


The Institute just recently launched an online course called “Product Management Fundamentals” where we discuss this in more detail, along with other important topics such as the competencies for successful product management, roles and responsibilities and product management career paths. It is free for a limited time, so if you’d like to check it out, follow the link above and tell us what you think.

And from now on, lets have a consistent answer to the question – What is Product Management?

Product Management is a process by which a product team manages value as it builds the right product for the right customers and becomes sustainable as a profitable business over time.  The Product Manager is the Master Orchestrator of this process of Product Management.

Thanks for reading! What do you think?