What's your job again, exactly?

The misunderstandings about product management are as wide as they are deep.

That's the message I get from practically every conversation I've had with product managers since starting here at Forrester. It arose during the follow-up interviews about tools for product managers. We heard it loud and clear in the results of the PM job survey. And I hear it in blogs, conferences, conversations, e-mails, you name it. It even arises during family get-togethers, when you try to explain to your relatives what being a product manager entails.

On this question, where goes product management, so goes the technology industry.  The people responsible, at the end of the day, for the success of a product--requirements for development, evangelization, product marketing, sales enablement, etc.--shouldn't have to keep explaining what they do to the very people they're serving--Development, Sales, Marketing, and the like. If the technology industry is all about product development, and product managers still work in this weird corner of Limbo, how then will the technology industry ever mature?

You can read my list of planned research, but this issue is part of everything I'll be writing. (Shameless plug: It's also a big part of my advisory repertoire, too.) I'm not alone, however. We're all, in different ways, trying to get the technology industry to the point where there's no more ambiguity about managing products than there is about coding or selling software.

Here's how we might know when that day arrives:

  • Job descriptions for PM positions on Monster.com all read roughly the same.
  • Your MBO goals match what you actually did, at a level of 90% or more, for 3 quarters in a row.
  • The US Department of Labor starts collecting statistics about product managers.
  • At least one bar in each major city offers a "Product Managers Drink Free" night.
  • Uncle Pete stops asking what it is you do for a living.

P.S. I have no idea what the people in the picture included in this post are doing, or how it relates to their jobs. That's why I love that picture.

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Comments

re: What's your job again, exactly?

Tom -Great post, and something that I've spent some time talking to other PMs about recently. Another point that I bring up during these conversations as well is major business programs in MBA programs and undergrad programs start teaching product management streams, along with the standard marketing and finance, etc...Oh, and I believe the pic is of QA folks in a deodorant company.