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Projects-to-Products: The Product Manager

By Brian Nathanson posted Oct 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.