Posted by Tom Grant on October 13, 2009
[Continuing the "behind the scenes" discussion of the Product Management/Marketing Job And Department Profiler, a.k.a. the job calculator. Here are the links to the first two parts, covering the origins of the calculator, and the design decisions behind it.]
As discussed in the last post on this topic, I decided to define product management roles through the tasks that those roles perform. The maxim, "You are what you do," made it easy to define different job categories for product managers and product marketers. A task -based approach also helped make a more convincing argument why particular specializations are necessary.
Tasks—what are people doing, and how much attention or emphasis does each task receive—make the difference between, say, the canonical product manager and the archetypical product marketer clear. Realistically, you never have enough time to do everything that's on the massive List Of Things For Which PM Might Be Responsible, nor are you necessarily good at all these tasks. Plus, if everything is top priority, then nothing is top priority.
From single-cell creatures to complex animals
If you add up the tasks that product managers do to ensure that a particular product or service meets its design and business objectives, you already have a pretty big list. Just working with the development team is going to consume a lot of time, without adding product marketing tasks like developing messaging, or even the project management tasks related to the development cycle, such as ensuring company readiness for a new release.
If you keep pushing the question, What should I be doing, and how important is it that I do it? it's easy to see the further specialization beyond just the product manager/product marketer distinction. I've already alluded to the separate job function of release manager, who's responsible for project management. There are also sales enablement specialists, whose job it is to support the customer- and partner-facing parts of the company. Sure, PMs have a role to play in sales enablement, but it's dangerous to have them spending too much time focused on the field. Even though the average PM crafts product strategy through the media of requirements and roadmaps, a user experience professional is contributing to the product's success in a different way.
In many companies, these roles report into different parts of the org chart. Whether or not they're centralized into the same PM organization is a question of execution.
Evolution creates new differentiations
In recent years, we've seen the emergence of other job specializations. The difference between product owners and product managers may not be completely clear, but the roles aren't exactly the same. (We heard that issue discussed a lot at the Agile 2009 conference. The role of PM in an Agile team turned into a much bigger research project than I ever expected, because there are no clear-cut right and wrong ways of defining it.) The explosion of social media has inspired a new job category, community manager, responsible for product management- or product marketing-like activities exclusively within social media outlets.
During the validation phase of this project, when I showed the calculator to heads of PM groups, no one blinked at these job specializations. It's clear that the day of the generic PM is over. What we call a product manager now is someone who is focused on product and service development. That person often works side-by-side, in the same group, with product marketers, technical product managers, release managers, and in some cases, even sales enablement. Or, these functions are scattered across the organization.
Nevertheless, the increasing specialization of product management and product marketing seems to be a fact of life. The to-do list—how big it is, and how much priority each task receives—has made that conclusion inescapable in any organization serious about the PM role.
[Cross-posted at The Heretech.]