Product Management Specialisation

I was catching up with the Ask A Good Product Manager blog over the weekend and came across the following question: “How much project management should a Product Manager do?”

This is a question that seems to come up with frustrating frequency. It comes up primarily because the role of a Product Manager is not seen as a specialised role. It is often seem as a blend of many different roles.

A Product Manager is a connecting point that draws together a wide variety of business facets in to a single role. This does not mean that they are, or even should be, a specialist in these roles.

For example

  • A Product Manager should be able to build a profit and loss statement for their product, but this does not make them an Accountant.
  • A Product Manager should have an understanding of the possibilities and limitations of the technology that enables their product, but this does not make them a Designer or an Engineer.
  • A Product Manager should be able to write clear messaging and understandable documentation but this does not make them a Copywriter.

I could go on but the same logic applies to the professional role of Project Manager. A product manager should have basic project management skills, and be able to work well with a project manager but it is important to understand that they are distinct areas of professional expertise.

Whenever an organisation attempts to combine professional roles it will result in a loss of focus on both roles. It is a false economy that with a relatively small saving on personnel but will turn a strategic Product Management role into a tactical one, and a focused project management role into a distracted one. The cost of this effect on the product and any given project are likely to greatly exceed the savings in headcount.

A Product Manager is a specialist in:

  • understanding the customers in their market,
  • exploring and articulating their stated and un-stated needs
  • understanding the ‘business’ of their product and managing it’s profitability
  • communicating the key differentiators and competitive advantages of the product to the company internally and, via communications professionals, to the marketplace
  • measuring and tracking the product’s success metrics

These are functions that none of the above roles does. (ie Accountant, Designer, Engineer, Communicator, or Project Manager).

So if you are a Product Manager, it is certainly valuable to understand and use some of the skills of other specialised roles, but make sure that you are not doing so at the expense of your product management specialisation.