Projects-to-Products: The Product Manager

By Brian Nathanson posted 10-11-2019 03:12 PM

It's difficult to get much further into this conversation without discussing who the product manager is and what they do.

Who is a product manager? Put simply, a product manager is the person who runs or guides one (or more) products. That is, they are responsible for one or more of the things we defined in this earlier post. That may sound overly simplistic, but I think it helps to define it in writing/out loud because it narrows down who actually performs this role.

Based on our own experience managing Clarity PPM and our gathered research from other customers, our team has determined the Product Manager role (whether or not the person has the title) ideally does the following things:

  • Understands the (internal or external) audience the product serves
  • Understands the value the product provides (or is intended to provide)
  • Manages & messages the strategic vision for the product
  • Maintains accountability to the funding stakeholders (investors)
  • Maintains accountability to the business for forecasting & (financial) performance
  • Should be able to clearly articulate the value delivered in return for the investment
The key takeaway about product managers is that they spend the majority of their time (literally, more than half) working with customers. This is in contrast to Product Owners, who I'll discuss in my next post.

The challenge for many project managers making the transition to product management is that the skill set required for this type and level of customer interaction is markedly different. A greater emphasis is placed on persuasion and what you might call "marketing" skills than detail orientation/organizational or direct communication skills. I'll elaborate on this point in future posts as well.

Note that many organizations have trained professional product managers that have been doing this for many years. The trick is that they are often front-facing -- meaning they sell your firm's products into the external market. They are not often found internally representing your technology "products" or "capabilities" to your internal audience.

In the end, though, the goal for many organizations is to manage your internal products the same way you manage your external products.

Agree with our characteristics list? Think we're missing something? Take issue with my highlighted takeaways? Comments are open for business.



10-17-2019 09:16 AM

Great questions, James. Each of these will likely become a new blog post, but here are short answers for now.

  • Relationship between project and product delivery: The irony here is that, in traditional project management, the "product WBS" was always a subset of the "project WBS". The new model effectively turns this model on its head -- a "project" is a subset of the "product"'s lifecycle -- and thus delivery. It might be product creation or product enhancement, but it only covers one aspect of the overall product investment.
  • Product budgeting generally leaves greater discretion to the product manager than project budgeting. In essence, when you fund in a product model, you elect to fund the product itself (fund Product ABC for $100M for FY20) because the product has recognizable value that is worth investing in. The specific work that will be done for that $100M is up to the Product Manager when they decide which features will be included/enhanced in FY20. Some of these features may be highlighted at a high level in justifying the product's funding amount, but certainly not at the detailed level necessary for delivery. This is in contrast to typical project budgeting, where the entire scope of work would be exactly specified as part of the business case in order to justify the funding level.
  • How is PPM adapting to the projects-to-products shift - PPM now offers different planning tools for managing products. Roadmaps are available for communicating and building consensus around both the product mix as a whole as well as for a specific product's feature set. Custom investment types are used to articulate the organization's products using the names with which they are comfortable. Product terminology is much more domain/org specific than project terminology (as I discuss in this post), so we are providing that flexibility to help organizations overcome this hurdle. Dynamic hierarchies (currently in development) will allow organizations to recombine all of the different value elements (see this post) in the organization any way necessary to get the view on the data that a particular role requires.
Hopefully, that helps. Feel free to drill further in on any of these points. Also, as I said above, I'll elaborate more on all of these topics in future posts. Thanks for the suggestions!

10-17-2019 05:32 AM

Great post to get the conversation about Product Management opened. One thing I guess I and maybe many people struggle with is the understanding of meshing  the notion of Product Delivery (Management) into to a traditional Project based organisation.

  • Is there a direct 1-1 relationship between the delivery of a project and the delivery of a product.?
  • How does finance - especially budgeting differ between the 2?
  • As Org wide Agility competencies grow - Many are shifting towards viewing activities through the prism of Products. How is PPM adapting to this shift?