There is still much debate around product management and product marketing roles. And it's not a new problem. Titles have been a mess for decades. Where did this begin?
In the early 1980s, most companies had an unambiguous job description for those who performed business planning for a single product. The title: product manager.
Now jump to the late 1980s. In his seminal tech marketing book Crossing the Chasm, Geoffrey Moore recommended two separate product management titles:
A product manager is responsible for ensuring that a product gets created, tested, and shipped on schedule and meeting specifications. It is a highly internally-focused job, bridging the marketing and development organizations and requiring a high degree of technical competence and project management experience.
A product marketing manager is responsible for bringing the product to the marketplace and to the distribution organization. It is a highly externally-focused job.
In 1995, Ken Schwaber and Jeff Sutherland formalized the Scrum development methodology. And with it came yet another product management title: product owner.
The Product Owner represents the stakeholders and is the voice of the customer. He or she is accountable for ensuring that the team delivers value to the business. Scrum teams should have one Product Owner.
The challenge here is twofold: 1) the product owner role is what developers want from a product manager—without regard to what other departments need. And 2) few product owners are empowered to be “the voice of the customer.” They are internally focused with little experience with actual customers. They have become what was once called a business analyst.
When organizations implemented agile development methods, formerly business-focused product managers became technology-focused product owners. Nowadays, we often see the product marketing manager filling the strategic void left when traditional product managers become technical product owners.
The three roles in product management
Product management has three necessary roles: product strategy, product planning, and product growth. In smaller companies, all three roles are performed by one person — creating a struggle to balance the long-term and the short-term. As teams grow, we see these three roles assigned to three people.
A Product strategy person is typically senior. They have business skills and explore new markets for existing products and new products for existing markets. They evaluate metrics to determine which products need additional investment and which need to be retired.
Product planning managers work closely with designers and developers to solve a specific problem. Their primary tools are personas, stories, and backlogs. These product professionals develop a deep understanding of the product and its technical capabilities; they achieve this by working with the product, by discussing it with customers and colleagues, and by keeping current on the industry. For a product planning manager, the product almost becomes their personal hobby.
Product growth managers, often called Product Marketing Managers, are focused on markets, either vertical or geographic. They use their market expertise to empower product management, marketing, and sales with the requirements and language of their markets, and they serve as the chief liaison from the market to the company. The product growth manager focuses on sales enablement and go-to-market planning so that when the product is delivered, there are people who want to buy it.
Here's the big distinction: product professionals are (or should be) focused on identifying, articulating, and prioritizing customer problems. They evaluate areas of friction for those who buy and use the product and then work with solutions teams, such as development and marketing, to solve those problems. For example, suppose a significant number of customers complain about a capability (or the lack of one). In that case, a product professional creates a requirement or problem story for the engineering team to address. Or, if potential buyers are befuddled by the myriad packages and options available, the product professional works with the marketing team to simplify the purchasing process.
Product professionals focus on problems, not solutions, and on markets, not individual customers.
Ongoing collaboration meetings with product professionals
When was the last time your product management team met to discuss product management? Product professionals rarely gather to discuss their challenges, processes, and methods. Instead, they work together primarily in support of other departments, such as planning for sales training or marketing events.
Product managers need to engage with one another frequently to talk about their successes and failures and how they can improve their outcomes.
Standard processes and common tools
One aspect of professionalism is standard processes and common tools. Stakeholders are confused when each product manager uses a different format for roadmaps or business proposals. They spend too much time trying to figure out the format before they can understand the information. Few product management teams take training classes together and adapt those methods to get the best results for their products and services.
Use a product management framework
Learning is at the core of product management, yet few product managers have a process for learning, articulating, prioritizing, and planning. The Quartz Open Framework was created to guide product management through a logical process from idea to market, supported by continual learning. As a process framework, Quartz defines both the necessary steps and how to order them, turning innovation into a choreographed dance. Learn at every step and adjust your plans accordingly.
Some teams today employ a ProductOps function to create an organizational “playbook” of methods customized to the business's unique needs. By examining what works (and what doesn’t) across all product teams, ProductOps identifies successful approaches and helps each team adopt the organization’s best practices. Learn how ProductOps can benefit your product teams.
Successful product teams need standard tools, a common language, and ongoing coaching on product management best practices.