Wait, What is Product Management anyway?

I've had the chance to have a generalist professional career, this has been the result of opportunity and a set of conscious decisions that have challenged me in different areas and industries. In this explorative journey (from corporate to startups, and from R&D to finance), I landed in a Product Management role without really understanding what this new world was all about. I started this trial-and-error-trek bouncing between a "self-taught" and "learning from mentors" process.

As I was facing an uphill battle in the out-of-the-comfort-zone, I realized that it was not just me. Most of the product Managers I met along the way were learning while driving also. Later, I recognized that peers from other areas, HR specialists, and even CEO's were figuring out what Product Management was. Please, do not get me wrong, the startup and technological waves have made it clearer for many in the last years. But still, there are some gaps that motivate me to start this chain of articles by drawing the definition I've built along the way. Buckle-up as we get to strategy frameworks, working schemas, and other relevant topics in upcoming posts. - The scope of this article and the following ones is for software and technology products only (apps, websites, etc.).

What is Product Management then?

Without wanting to elude the question, it is important to clarify that there are some core characteristics most Product Management roles require, and other variable traits that depend on the type of product and resources available for the project. Both core and variable traits diverge depending on the stage of the product.

Core Traits

At its core, a Product Manager is in charge of designing the strategy, framing the features and traits, detailing and prioritizing the implementation roadmap, defining all requirements and specifications, overseeing and analyzing the product performance, and determining upcoming improvements for the product based on business goals. Also, for the sake of the chosen niche, expertise in technology and computer science.

Variable Traits

These are highly dependent on the industry, type of company, and stage of the product (Discovery, Definition, Product Market Fit, Scalability, and Growth) - I will dive deeper into the skills Product Managers should develop for each one of the product stages in coming posts. But going back to the point, as a Product Manager you must have the range to grasp several areas of knowledge while being a specialist. The most common areas of expertise are Design, Data, Business, and Operations. Albeit you will rarely find an exhaustive position that solely requires one area of expertise (i.e. the fact that most product managers use methodologies as "design thinking" to solve complex issues it doesn't mean the role requires a design expert).

In a nutshell, a Product Manager owns the end-to-end process of the definition of a product at its different layers: Business Model, Product Vision, Epics, Features, and Requirements that should be translated into a digital solution from the perspective of the required discipline (Design, Data, Business, and Operations). The latter one encompasses the valuable consideration that not all processes need to be automated, some are just "ok" in analog.

This seems easy and straight forward, where does the confusion lay?

The Product Manager is a Mini-CEO. They usually need to roll up their sleeves and understand the legal implications of the product, the economics, how the operation of the product should function, etc. This is complex to achieve when there are companies that still designed under the conventional organizational structure where there are "rock-solid" and "independent" verticals or departments ( i.e, Operations, Finance, Sales, etc.) because PMs could be perceived as "intruders" while doing their job. This may be true, Product Managers need to make decisions that converge with roles and responsibilities from other functional areas, but they are not the CEOs. They are most likely to be a middle manager with a lot at stake.

About the author

Constantino is the Program Manager for the OTT Portfolio at Zemoga, he oversees several Digital Streaming initiatives.