Saturday, October 19, 2013

Product Manager - a Vague Job

Look here for a Sample Job Description of a Product Manager (from

As Product Manager, you will guide a team that is charged with a product line contribution as a business unit. This extends from increasing the profitability of existing products to developing new products for the company. You will build products from existing ideas, and help to develop new ideas based on your industry experience and your contact with customers and prospects. You must possess a unique blend of business and technical savvy; a big-picture vision, and the drive to make that vision a reality. You must enjoy spending time in the market to understand their problems, and find innovative solutions for the broader market.
You must be able to communicate with all areas of the company. You will work with an engineering counterpart to define product release requirements. You will work with marketing communications to define the go-to-market strategy, helping them understand the product positioning, key benefits, and target customer. You will also serve as the internal and external evangelist for your product offering, occasionally working with the sales channel and key customers.
A product manager's key role is strategic, not tactical. The other organizations will support your strategic efforts; you won't be supporting their tactical tasks.


  • Managing the entire product line life cycle from strategic planning to tactical activities
  • Specifying market requirements for current and future products by conducting market research supported by on-going visits to customers and non-customers.
  • Driving a solution set across development teams (primarily Development/Engineering, and Marketing Communications) through market requirements, product contract, and positioning.
  • Developing and implementing a company-wide go-to-market plan, working with all departments to execute.
  • Analyzing potential partner relationships for the product.


  • 3+ years of software marketing/product management experience.
  • Knowledgeable in technology.
  • Computer Science or Engineering degree or work experience a strong plus.
  • This position requires travel to customer and non-customer sites in North America and Europe (25%).

What this job description - and indeed any PM job description - does not answer is: what are the activities you will do on a day to day basis? Would you run usability tests? Attend sales calls as the product expert? Run the Product Steering Committee meeting? Help shape the company's strategy? Help select the shade of blue of the Reports button?

Product Managers are both very detailed and very strategic, and so need to be strategic about how much time they would spend on each activity. Here is a framework that I use to determine how much I need to engage.

On X and Y axis, I plot my initiative and expertise in the topic, and initiative and expertise of other people in the company (THESE ARE JUST SAMPLE ACTIVITIES/VALUES). This does assume all activities are equally important, but let's use a simplifying assumption for that, for now.

The orange circle indicates activities I can trust other people with, and contribute, when asked for my input. I might contribute on occasion, or engage when I think that some product needs/objectives might not be met, but I largely stay away.

The green circle is my core areas of focus.

The red circle is the danger zone - the areas where no one has good enough expertise. Either I need to develop my skills here, or make sure we get someone who has this expertise.

I don't formally track activities on such a graph, but is it on a subconscious level on day to day basis.

What decision framework do you use when you determine where to spend your time?

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