Product management is one of the hardest jobs to define in any organization, partially because it’s different in every company. I’ve had several recent conversations about “what is a product manager?” with friends who are taking their first product jobs or advancing in their product careers. I wanted to capture and share them here. Please share your feedback via notes.
The job of a product manager is to:
Help your team (and company) ship the right product to your users
Or to break this down into smaller pieces:
1) Help your team:
The best product managers spend all of their time on the highest priority things that help their team.
These are primarily (a) coordination — ensuring that the team is planning, making decisions, and working together effectively with a clear purpose and focus, and (b) communication — making sure everyone understands what is happening, when, and why, especially as things inevitably change. Side note: By “team,” I am referring to the set of people directly working together on the product or area of a product including designers, engineers, QA, documentation, marketing, and affiliated teams on a project such as business development, support, legal, etc.
A lot of people describe a product manager as a CEO of the product or the “owner” of the spec, but I think that over-ascribes influence and authority to the product manager. The best teams operate in a way where the team collectively feels ownership over the spec and everyone has had input and been able to suggest and promote ideas. The best product managers coordinate the key decisions by getting input from all team members and are responsible to surface disagreements, occasionally break ties, and gather consensus (or at least ensure that everyone commits to a plan) when decisions get made. It’s not about building what the product manager thinks is right. This isn’t to say that product managers shouldn’t have great ideas of their own, but the goal is not to find a team that executes on their ideas blindly. Instead, the best product managers build a process to collaboratively decide on the right priorities so the whole team is bought in.
More tactically,helping your team often means being the person who writes and summarizes notes after a long meeting, or writing a spec to make sure you have captured the team’s consensus and plan in written form. I often found that producing a good write-up took longer than the meeting itself. And often it means collaborating with people on your extended team — getting their feedback, sharing the plan, and making sure there are no roadblocks or traps that could get in the way of the team delivering their product to users. At Twitter, we called this ACT SOLID to capture all of the groups that were part of the extended team (Analytics, Communications, Trust/safety, Support, Ops, Legal, International, Design).
While engineers produce code and designers produce mockups and graphics, product managers don’t produce any tangible artifacts for the final product. But ultimately, I believe the success of the team and product over time come down to the effectiveness of the product manager.