The Product. The Whole Product. And Nothing But the Whole Product.

Who is a Product Manager?

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Product Management Today Best Article

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?

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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.


Written by Rahul Abhyankar

May 18, 2018 at 7:33 pm

Posted in Product Management

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