“What is Product Management to you?” she asked.

I am a Product guy who recently changed his job. During the interview process, I was asked to describe what Product Management meant to me. Over the course of my career I have developed a model to describe it. This ever evolving model has benefitted from input from a lot of smart people. Like any good thing, it has 3 parts:

Define the box

Define the box

As a Product Manager you must deal with ambiguity. If you cannot do that, game over, period. Even after a high level vision is ready and the strategy to achieve the vision is available, it is not clear what the product exactly looks like. Role of a product manager is to remove ambiguity and provide clarity. I call this process defining the box. It includes understanding all relevant things (market, customer, team capabilities etc.) and being specific about the tasks that must be completed to have the highest probability of success. These tasks span departments and provide clarity on what it would take to make the product successful.

Cover the white space

Screen Shot 2013-04-04 at 11.19.52 PM

Each department plays a role in filling up the ‘box’. The role of the product manager is to cover the remaining white space.

By doing so, a Product Manager:

#1: Ensures that nothing falls through the cracks. It doesn’t mean that you are responsible for doing the work though sometimes it may.

#2: Must be the communication channel between departments. Engineering may not always be in sync with marketing efforts. Marketing may have made assumptions about engineering efforts. As a product manager it is your role to make sure the departments have the right information and are in sync.

Move the box

Move the box

Finally, as a product manager, you must be thinking ahead and defining what the next box would look like. Product manager must be ahead of others in thinking about the next step. Inability to define this box will result in missed opportunities.

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6 comments

  1. for those of us who don’t live in this world, does filling the white space mean connecting these departments/divisions/groups? Or does it mean that picking up the slack?

    • It means both. Sometimes you have to pick up the slack if there is no owner. Other times you have to get the owners to understand the priority.

  2. Nice post and blog topic. U have a strong PM background to share.

    Feedback:
    Step 1 is really two steps: long term vision and strategy, and then short term execution plan, broadly speaking.

    I think u have the right pieces in your framework but am wondering if the box doesn’t provide the right framework… Food for thought.

    But on high level a useful way to explain PM.

    • Thanks Marcus. You have a good point about long term strategy vs short term execution. In my mind the model should still work as the first step should include long term strategy. However it does not come across very clearly. I will update it to clarify that aspect as well.

  3. Good thoughts.
    Here are my 2 cents.
    Your model needs to start with a solution neutral problem statement. A product is a means to solve a problem. Product manager’s first job is to define / articulate the problem clearly to all the stakeholders.

    • Thanks Abhijeet. I was trying to keep the model generic so didn’t get into specific details as defining the problem/prioritization/customer definition. All these are for me stage 1: defining the box.


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