Defining the Role of the Product Manager (interview)

I (Nick Coster) was recently was interviewed by Phil Dobbie from BNET Australia about what makes a great Product Manager. To kick this discussion off I thought it would be better to try and define what the primary function of the Product Managment role actually is.
Below is the Audio of the interview. Also provided are the interview notes that I wrote to get ready. We would love to hear your feedback on this topic, as it is fundamental to product management as a profession.

Interview Notes

The title “product manger” often means different things in different organisations. Ask two product managers what they do any you are likely to get quite different answers.

Sometimes includes:

  • Marcoms
  • Project management
  • Product operations
  • Product Support
  • Copy writing
  • Product Design and Development

The Product Manager will often work with these other roles but deliver better results to the business if they are able to focus on more strategic outcomes.

The Role of the Product Manager

At Brainmates we define the role of the product manager as having 3 key strategic responsibilities for the delivery and maintenance of a product or service:

  1. Provide more value than the competition
  2. Help build a sustainable competitive advantage
  3. Deliver financial benefit to the business.

With this role definition, any activity that does not directly contribute to these outcomes is not part of the product management role.

1) Provide more value than the competition

  • This means solving a problem or addressing a customer need that is currently unsatisfied in the marketplace.
  • It is about making it simpler, cheaper, more accessible or more affordable for the customer to have their specific problem addressed.
  • It doesn’t mean giving extra stuff away for free if nobody wants it, or adding an unnecessary feature to something just to keep up with the competition.
  • It is the customer that will decide what the value of something is to them.

Example: I don’t like waiting in bank queues at the branch. If the bank was able to consistently provide me a way that made it faster to interact with them at the branch I would be a much happier customer. Instead I am looking for a competitor who will.

2) Help build a sustainable competitive advantage

  • In addition to doing something that adds value, the product manager needs to look for opportunities that their business is able to deliver consistently as a differentiator to the competition.
  • Price should not be used as a competitive advantage because it is generally not sustainable to keep dropping prices.
    • Unless there is come capability that the business has that allows them to always delivery at the lowest prices for comparable products, like Aldi or Walmart.
  • It also means that you shouldn’t sell a product that will eventually put you out of business. If it is too expensive for the company to offer a product or service then it shouldn’t be considered useful as a competitive differentiator.

Example: Apple has done this with iTunes and the App store. If another competitor wants to target an Apple iPod user they need to make it easier to get the music that they want at a comparable price. We can see this happening with Google application store and Nokia Ovi Store but they will have a long way to go to beat Apple.

3) Deliver financial benefit to the business.

  • The Product Manager role is ultimately to bring money in the door via the sale or consumption of it’s products.
  • The product manager needs to understand and be responsible for the revenue and the costs of the product.
  • Increased profit can be created by either:
    • Increasing the price of the product or increasing the volume of the sales of the product – usually by delivering more value to the customers
    • Decreasing the costs to deliver the product to the customer

Summary:

  • To do this the product manager has to have a great understanding of their customers and non-customers in their chosen market.
  • This will allow them to tune in to the unmet needs that may represent new future business opportunities
  • Many product managers are busy running the operations of their product, however great product managers are addressing these 3 strategic outcomes to help create products that their customers love.