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Many Roles, Many Titles

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In the old days, a product manager would start a new job and tell the team, “I’m in charge now. I’m the CEO of the product.” You can almost hear developers around the world shouting, “Shields up!”

In my discussions with executive teams, it’s clear that company leaders expect the product manager to be responsible for requirements. Communicating customer problems to development in some form, using artifacts known as stories, problems, features, or requirements. When pressed, execs often add some business aspects for the product: financial plan, roadmap, maybe a business case.

Rarely does a company leader advocate a product manager’s role in determining the company’s strategic direction or defining new products for the portfolio.

Furthermore, many companies have adopted some form of agile development—such as Lean or Scrum or Kanban—for product creation. Agile methods require the team to have a subject matter expert available at all times. This market expert role is typically called a product owner. The product owner is expected to be a member of the team (and by the way, a member of only one team). As product owners, they’re responsible for answering any questions that developers have about customers and markets. In some cases, product owners are valued members of the team; in others, they’re more like the team secretary, fetching market data or typing up meeting notes or managing the team schedule.

The role of product manager (or product owner) is to be the real-time market and business expert.

Sales and marketing people need subject matter expertise as well. Someone who can explain the product to the sales team. Someone who can explain the product features and futures to a client. Someone who can provide content for marketing programs. Many companies have created roles—product marketing managers and sales engineers—to serve this function. After all, the product managers or product owners are too busy with development to help them. And probably too close to the technology to explain the features and benefits to regular people.

While most product marketing managers attempt to anticipate the needs of sales and marketing folks, oftentimes, the product marketing manager is more of a janitor—rushing content to marketing for a campaign that’s on deadline, walking back a commitment a sales guy made, cleaning up mistakes made by others.

Development organizations have hired product owners and business analysts. Marketing groups have hired product marketing managers. The sales team has staffed up a sales engineering group (or should have). Each department should now have their own subject matter experts. Or are all groups looking to product management to fill their informational needs?

Is it time to rethink your expectations of the role of the product manager?

Read more on this topic in my free ebook: "Expertise in Product Management".

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