Over the last couple of weeks, I've been involved in several conversations with a common theme: What's a product?
While that might seem like a profoundly dumb question, it's not. The definition of "product" can be pretty elusive, and not just in the technology industry. Do you define a product as a clearly identifiable thingamabob that vendors sell, such as cars and ERP systems? Or are customers the real measure of products, based on the business problems that the product is supposed to solve?
While I'm sympathetic with the intent behind the customer-based definition, I think it's better to choose the vendor-based one. Customers have business problems that require solutions, which include one or more products. (Usually more than one, in the tech biz.) Vendors may be very good at providing one of the solution components, but they often run into trouble trying to do everything, even for clearly identifiable business imperatives like "keep us from getting sued for non-compliance."
One of my dream projects is to compare product management in the technology industry to similar jobs in other parts of the economy. For example, there are people with the job title "product manager" in the biomedical industry. How different is their work from a product manager at IBM or SAP? (I know a little about our cousins in other industries, but that's not the same as doing the research.)
We also have the product manager-ish position of business analyst in IT departments. How similar are they to product managers?
Fortunately for me, we have analysts at Forrester who study this breed of cat. Mary Gerush just published a document, "Find And Grow Great Business Analyts," that includes the current status of the job responsibilities and requirements for business analysts. The similarities are more striking than differences, which leads one to naturally wonder how much product managers can learn from business analysts, and vice-versa.