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Titles are a Mess

The confusion of titles today is amazing. We have an alphabet soup of job titles!

You’re the new head of product—or—you’re a new HR person working with the product organization. And you’re trying to make sense of the smorgasbord of titles in product management. And titles are a mess.

You find titles of product manager, product owner, technical product manager, product marketing manager, marketing manager, partnership manager, product specialist, product leader, product line manager, associate product manager, business analyst, senior product owner, portfolio manager. Not to mention business development manager, customer success manager, field marketing manager, regional marketing manager, and more. And today I heard: price change delivery manager.

There’s certainly a lot of managing going on!

I’m frequently asked about titles I’ve never heard before. “I have a senior product strategy marketing associate and a product marketing manager. What do they do?”

Good question. What do they do?

Responsible and Approvers

One great technique is to use RACI to define roles: Responsible, Approves, Consulted, and Informed. Look at a list of responsibilities—I have a list of 60+ that I use with product teams—and determine which title has which responsibility.

And it’s not just you: no one is clear on the term “accountable” which is why we use “approves” instead. For example, if product managers are not doing an activity, should they approve the work before it goes into the product? Are they consulted? Or merely informed?

The real value of this exercise is the discussion. Which role does this and why? Is there someone else who should be doing it? If not a product role, then who?

A Title "Formula" and Other Tricks

One approach I use for understanding existing titles is to change “manager” to “expert.” Sometimes that clears things up. What is their area of expertise? So a “product marketing manager” presumably is an expert in marketing products. But does that mean product marketing managers are expert in the product? Or expert in marketing? Or both? Or neither?

For creating titles, try a three-level structure: scope of the role, primary activity, and seniority.


What is the scope of the role? Does it have responsibility for one product or a portfolio of products? An industry or geographic region? Consider these words: Product, Portfolio, Industry, Market, Region, Country, and Customer.


What is the primary activity for this role? The one thing that they should focus on most often, say 50% of their time or more? Consider these areas of activities: Strategy, Planning, Growth, Design, Development, Marketing, Promotion, Evangelism, Sales, and Implementation.


What is the level of experience expected in this role? Consider these, from most senior to least: Principal, Manager, Specialist, Associate. Each of these seniority levels is for individual contributor roles.

Reserve the titles Director and VP for people who manage people.

Applying this in Real Life

There are lots of folks with the title ‘product manager’ but the generic title masks an amazing range of scope and activities from strategic to tactical.

Many teams use the Scrum role of product owner as a title but I’m reluctant to recommend any title with the word “owner” (except for the company founder). For the product owner role, I would prefer the title of product planning manager since they are principally focused on planning the next release or model of a product.

One product manager runs field marketing programs for a group of products in Asia. Instead of the title “product manager”, I would suggest Regional Growth Manager—after all, they are focused on overall growth of product adoption in one region of the world. While this role would provide market insights back to product management, the work is not specific to a product; it’s specific to the region.

Some with the title product manager are really sales engineers. And sales engineering is a very important role. But sales engineering is not product management. So a Regional Implementation Manager might be a better title for this role.

Feel free, of course, to add your own scope, activity, and seniority values. One caution: please use the term ‘product’ only for titles that have a specific product assignment and extensive product knowledge.

Over the years, I have adopted three titles in product management: product strategy manager, product planning manager, and product growth manager. A product strategy manager focuses on business strategy for future products. A product planning manager focuses on the technical aspects of the next release or model. A product growth manager focuses on the go-to-market aspects of the current (or soon to be current) product. To help you in hiring, here is an article with Product Job Descriptions.

Our goal in product management is to turn good ideas into successful products systematically. As a product leader building a team, what roles and titles do you need to meet this goal?

To learn more about turning good ideas into success products, read our eBook, "How to Achieve Product Success."


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