You mean we're not alone?

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.

Or at least commiserate with one another, since many of the challenges are the same, too. Amorphous job descriptions, a challenging mix of social science and computer science skills needed to do the job well--all that sounds very familiar. There are even people who have the title of "business analyst," but don't do what you think that particular job entails. (See a recent post on the Silicon Valley Product Group blog for more discussion of these points.)

It's also reassuring, in its own weird way, that business analysts have many of the same issues about reporting relationships. One of my least favorite projects, when I was working for a technology company, was a customer in the US military who had made split responsibility for requirements and implementation between two one-star generals. Surprise, surprise, there was friction between the business analysts and the developers. Both sides felt hamstrung by the other. Go figure. Both business analysts and product managers need to be persuasive, but good people skills are no match for big organizational impediments.

Still, as interesting as business analysts are, I also have a strong desire to research product management outside the technology industry. Even if the role is very different from PM in the technology industry, I'd expect the differences to be illuminating. For example, the pharmaceutical industry's burden of regulation certainly shapes the entire product development effort, including PM. Having worked with development teams that encountered the realities of regulation for the first time, I certainly would have liked to draw on a few lessons learned from other industries.

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Comments

re: You mean we're not alone?

We've actually been working on trying to understand and articulate the distinction between the business analyst and product manager roles. It's a subtle one, but I think one way to look at it is that Product Managers analyse and devise solutions for MARKETS, while Business Analysts analyse and devise solutions for ORGANIZATIONS. Which would mean, actually, that I'd disagree with the author of the SVPG Blog: the person in the example, doing requirements for custom project, is properly a business analyst and not a product manager.Obviously the line between the two gets fuzzy sometimes, but there is a fairly big difference between the skills and knowledge used to look at a market and those used to understand the functioning of an organization.

re: You mean we're not alone?

And, there is a whole market of product managers now in the services industry. We're not business analysts, not technology product managers, and often have responsibilites that are a combiantion of marketing and sales development.Please don't forget us!

re: You mean we're not alone?

On the BA versus product manager front, I agree with Kevin. I've never expressed it as market versus organization, though. I've always said "single customer" versus "multiple customers." A product manager looks for trends / problems faced by multiple customers and prioritizes the roadmap for a solution or product. A business analyst (when doing the "requirements part" of BA work), looks for opportunities to help his single customer. With enterprise IT firms, a good BA is also looking for trends / problems faced by different organizations within the company. The more I think about it, the more I like how Kevin puts it.

re: You mean we're not alone?

The insurance industry has product managers that typically are responsible for taking an actuarial financial projection and comparing it to market demands to determine the correct price for insurance in a market. There are typically stringent regulations related to insurance and the PM needs to balance profit, regulation and sales in pricing and creating their insurance offerings. These product managers often have some level of P&L responsibility.

re: You mean we're not alone?

Tom: I can't help you with the deep info that you are looking for, but a great place to start looking would be over at Coke. Clearly they are successful, they've got fierce competition and they are a global player. Add to this that they have over 450 different brands, and you've got a virtual stable of product / brand managers.- Dr. Jim Andersonwww.TheAccidentalPM.com"Learn How Product Managers Can Be Successful And Get The Respect That They Deserve"