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Product Management

What Does a Product Manager Do?

Woke up this morning to the following on Twitter.

Obviously there are a lot of great answers to this question. However, this got me thinking about the question itself. The question is not about what a PM delivers or works on. It is about what they “do”? In other words, the question is from the perspective of an outsider or a stakeholder in an organization.

So I wanted to focus on the impact of a good PM can have in the organization as a way to answer this question. Hence, I am purposely not discussing product discovery, roadmaps, stories, etc. This is something I discuss with my team frequently. I like having these in the back of their mind whenever taking any action or decision. I break these down into five parts.

Product Strategy

Product strategy simply put, is the way to achieve the company vision. It crafts the steps to be taken across various initiatives which will drive the entire organization closer to the end goal.

Product Managers are not only responsible for defining this strategy, but much more importantly are responsible for driving it through the rest of the organization. It’s the PM who needs to ensure that we are looking at each problem, each decision, and each initiative through this lens.

If performed well teams work on the right initiatives and overall delivery is on the right outcomes which will deliver value to the customers.

Balancing Between the Tactical and the Strategic

Even with a strategy in mind, often PMs have to make decisions about short term initiatives that may not fully align with long term vision. It isn’t fully clear that this outcome will eventually get the organization closer to the end goal or not. Typical examples include specific customer requests, underlying technology change, internal tools, etc.

Good product managers help bridge this gap for the team. They help all the stakeholders understand as to why a certain initiative matters in the long run. Moreover, they connect the dots between the short term tactical item to the long term strategic result.

This ability also helps them to make decisions on these short term initiatives and ensure that they are not sacrificing the long term for the short.

Curator not Creator

Often PMs are seen as a source of product ideas. This could not be furthest from the truth. True innovation requires an environment where all voices are heard and contribute towards the success of the product and thus the business.

In order to foster such an environment, the good PMs encourage and cull the best ideas from the organization. Using every opportunity they have, PMs source deep insights and ideas from every part of the organization. This need not be limited to just the customer-facing teams. An environment (in addition to tools) needs to be created where anyone can contribute.

PMs then use these insights to mold, massage and craft (aka curate) the most optimal roadmap for the product at the given moment.

Enabler for the Entire Organization

This goes hand in hand with the point above. Creating an innovative and collaborative environment requires a strong team in every possible function. While many functions can operate in vertical silos and can make independent decisions, PMs cannot operate in that fashion.

Look at it another way. If a sales rep doesn’t meet the quota, the impact is felt within the sales team, and if a developer ships buggy code, it’s the eng team who have to stay late and fix the problems. Sure the business does feel the impact but the other vertical teams don’t. However, in each of these scenarios, PMs do feel the impact. No matter where the problem is in the organization, it impacts the performance of the PMs product.

So to be successful, PMs operate horizontally and realize the impact they have on their stakeholders and vice versa. They know and believe this in their hearts to have the intense empathy and ability to have a positive impact. At every step, they strive to enable their stakeholders to be successful at their job. They truly serve as a trusty ally at all times.

Glue Between Functions

Finally building on point of PMs operating vertically, they are also in a unique position to connect various orgs. In most cases, changes in one org do end up impacting another org in an indirect form.

Good PMs are cognizant of this and actively act as a glue between organizations to minimize things falling through the cracks. This is very powerful in complex organizations where a small change can severely impact operations or support processes downstream.

Conclusion

I purposely focussed on Outcomes versus Outputs for this answer. When the aforementioned outcomes are felt an organization truly recognizes the value of PMs in their teams.

If you are an aspiring PM and have a true impact in your company factor these in your thought framework and be mindful in every decision you make.

By Abhishek Tiwari

SVP Product wiser.com | ❤️ building Enterprise SaaS & Consumer Products | Beer & BBQ, enthusiast

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