One of the issues that’s often lamented about the product management profession is that it is not well understood. I think one of the big reasons for that is that we try to put too many different jobs in the same category. I have come around to the viewpoint that product manager roles should be classified in terms of the type of goals they are trying to accomplish. I like Saeed Khan’s breakdown in 5 Steps to Building a Great Product Management Organization:
Roles in Product Management should differentiate between technical and business focus; between short term tactical and longer term strategic activities; between internal (inbound) and external (outbound) responsibilities. These roles should be organized as small teams focused on specific products or product lines, with defined metrics to measure progress and success.
This is what is done with virtually every other department in a company. Why should it be different for Product Management?
Another way to look at it comes from Jonathan Golden. He talks about Pioneers (focused on taking risks and building new things), Settlers (focused on growth and scaling), and Town Planners (focused on infrastructure and platform management), and then makes this point:
Even in an established company, all three types of product managers are critical. “The product team needs each of these PMs to be nimble and responsive. Otherwise the business won’t endure for the long term,” says Golden. “We allocate product resources across three main categories: core initiatives that focus on the existing product, new initiatives that explore possible areas of growth for the business, and platform initiatives that focus on building fundamental technological infrastructure.” Pioneers and settlers don’t become obsolete just because you’re at scale.
I think this type of thinking wil help a lot with the misunderstandings and misconceptions that exist in the product management landscape.