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Personal blog of an eCommerce Product Manager. I collect things here and think out loud. My passion is to accelerate building new eCommerce capabilities in large and complex organizational environments.

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Technology Product Management 101

I get to meet a lot of people who ask me about Software/Technology Product Manager’s job. Especially, when I’m attending some conferences like SXSW. While they understand a Product Manager’s role from a P&L management standpoint, they don’t get the concept of managing software as a product, and that too, a non-licensing software product. So I thought of creating a post that would outline the basics of Technology Product Management. 

In this post, I’ll focus on Non-licensing Software Product Management, where the Product indirectly helps generate revenue (Amazon/eBay) but not via the sales of the product itself (SAP/Oracle). However, the Roles and Responsibilities of a Product Manager are quite similar in both the cases, except, in some of those latter cases, the Product Managers also manage P&L for the software product they manage. 

Product Manager Vs. Requirements/Business Analyst

The definitions of these titles are quite loose and the responsibilities of people with these titles may vary from company to company. However, I’m going to oversimplify it in this post so that the people new to Product Management can grasp it easily.

While Product Managers own driving the vision and the long term road map of the products, Requirements/Business Analysts own execution of driving Business Requirements into development and deployment by translating them into system level (an in some cases, technical specification level) details. 

General Responsibilities of a Product Manager

 Here is a very high level list of “things” product managers do:

  • Setting product vision and strategy
  • Creating Marketing Requirements Documents
  • Creating Business Requirements Documents
  • Managing multi-year road map
  • Managing product backlog and keeping it fresh
  • Managing stakeholder relationships
  • Driving core team meetings
  • Help driving/creating business cases 
  • Working with marketing to align the product requirements with marketing strategy
  • Working with operations to build/improve processes
  • Managing User Acceptance Testing
  • Providing consulting help to business when questions/issues come up around the product features
  • Triage issues/defect and prioritize them for the engineering teams
  • Driving innovation
  • Helping engineering understand the “business”
  • Influencing business’ decision based to ensure product’s integrity
  • Critical decision making
  • Not letting the ball drop as the requirements change hands during cross-functional projects

Based on the size of the company, you may see these responsibilities varying. In some cases, you may see some overlap between Product Manager’s and Business Analyst’s jobs, and in some other cases, you may see some overlap between Product Manager’s and Business Program Manager’s jobs. However, this list is quite close to a Product Manager’s responsibilities in most of the medium and large size companies. 

Types of Product Management

Again, I’ll take the liberty to generalize it for Medium/Large size companies in order to make it simpler for newbies to understand.

  • Domain Product Manager - Domain Product Manager owns a software application from a gamut of application across the company functions. This kind of product managers have their own engineering teams dedicated to the “product” that they manage - e.g. Payment Product Manager at eBay or Catalog Product Manager at Amazon or Search Platform Product Manager at Google - a Domain Product Manager doesn’t necessarily own a customer facing product, it could very well be a platform like “Vendor On-boarding System” for Amazon. 
  • Capabilities Product Manager - Capabilities Product Manager owns cross cutting needs like Search, SEO, Analytics, Lead Gen etc. that domain product managers often miss out on while defining their features. This kind of Product Managers may or may not have their own engineering teams, but they ensure that the Domain Product Managers think of all these “capabilities” while defining their features.
  • Program Product Manager - When it comes to implementing a large cross-functional program that is aligned with company’s corporate strategy, Program Product Managers manage and lead such initiatives end to end. They work hand in hand with the engineering Program Manager, and lead a group of domain and capabilities product managers in order to make the program successful. A good example of a large Program could be Apple going into the Application Market business - you need a Program Product Manager to champion a large shift like that. 
  • Portfolio Product Manager - As a software organization becomes large, complex, and inter-dependent, you need a Portfolio Product Manager who would act as a counterpart of the IT Portfolio Manager. This kind of Product Manager becomes face of the entire Product Management organization to ensure that there are proper change and release management processes in place to keep programs and projects on track, both from a budget and a timeline standpoint. 

Who do Product Managers roll up to?

Product managers may roll up to the VP of Marketing or CTO based on the nature of the Products they manage. If the products being managed are sales vehicles for the company, they generally roll up to Marketing, but if the company’s primary business is running off of the software products, the Product Management organization may roll up to the CTO of the company. 

This is helpful, but I want to know more

If this post made you interested in knowing more about Product Management or building a career in Product Management, I highly recommend reading a book called “Inspired: How to create products customers love” by Marty Cagan. While I read this book after entering into Product Management , I wish I had read it way back when I was in school :)

Posted on Tuesday, June 5th 2012