Product Management 101 from Christopher Cummings

I attended a webinar on Product Management today entitled, Product Manager 101: What Does A Product Manager Actually Do by Christopher Cummings of Lycos (did you know that they still exist?).  His short form definition:

The product manager is the glue that binds the team together and the grease that keeps the product moving in the right direction.

So, what does a PM do?  There are some key areas where product managers get involved, and these sound rather familiar from other presentations and recent training.  A product manager

  • Understands the market
  • Develops market-based product strategies
  • Creates relevant and usable documentation
  • Brings products into the market
  • Bridges every department that touches the product.

Of course, he went into detail on each of these elements with examples and highlights.  Of the items that caught my attention:

  • Use the software - a lot.  Product managers have to know how the software works and what it does, and how customers expect it to behave.  I've heard / seen others that have said the product manager doesn't necessarily need to be intimately familiar with the software.  I suspect this depends on the anticipated usage.  I have colleagues who sell infrastructure software that is difficult to "use" unless you have a full scale manufacturing plant outside your office.
  • Keep a record of customer (and potential customer) compliments and complaints. 
  • Do plenty of research in understanding the market and developing those strategies.  This is a key long-term activity that is easy to let drop when the short term work rears its head.
  • The product manager is the face of the product.  This swings both ways: Just like your waiter at a restaurant - they can make or break the perception of the product.  In my experience the product manager is much more critical for internal perception, as the marketing and sales teams are heavily involved on the externally-facing work.
  • The 5-C's of customer interactions: be Clear, Concise, Confident, Courteous, and Completely understand issues.
  • The PM is responsible for profit & loss (P&L).  This is a new one on me.
  • Leverage your networks.  Access experts inside and outside the company.  Find customers and potential customers via your network connections.

Cummings keeps his own blog and posted a short set of slides along these lines few weeks ago.  The presentation spent more time on the details behind these.

6 Comment(s)

Thanks for the write up! Looks like there's a problem on slideshare with the original presentation, so I reposted it here: Sorry about that!

>>The PM is responsible for profit & loss

I believe the PM is responsible for gaining sustainable ROI (so not just profit this year, but for the next 5). Be mindful of the short wins for a "see I am profitable now" type approach.


Patti Anklam said:

When I was at Digital, someone once gave me a metaphor for the product manager's job: it's like carrying around a large, flat platter that has a lot of balls on it. the job is to keep all the balls from falling off while you are in constant motion.

Saeed Khan said:

One comment I'd like to make is about the phrase "the product manager". Product Management is a business function that is critical to technology companies. Product Managers are part of the product management function, just as sales people are part of the sales function, engineers are part of the Product Development function etc.

This view of "the" (singleton) product manager is part of the problem when trying to understand what product managers do. Just as no single engineer -- unless they are in a very small company -- will be architect, developer, tester etc. all in one, similarly only in very small companies will the PM be singular.

Product Management is a business optimization function that is responsible for defining the needed product investments to achieve or exceed business goals.

Product Management is responsible for many individual things, some of which are mentioned in the original post, but this doesn't necessarily mean that a single individual must be responsible for all of that.


Jack Vinson Author Profile Page said:

Saeed - Thanks for this distinction. As one of those people called "product manager," it is easy to conflate what do I do with what does the company need to do in terms of product management (and everything else). Based on the training I've had from ZigZag and what I've seen from other services, the general description is on all the things that need to happen with some assumption about which pieces are best done by various roles in the company.

Thanks Saeed for that definition, I myself am a PM and I feel a little more focused in my position.


Merit Solutions

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