Dissecting Product Management Job Titles

Adrienne Tan

Anytime the topic of Product Management roles and responsibilities is discussed, you can guarantee that you’ll elicit excitable responses and conflicting opinions. The spectrum of job titles and descriptions used to describe the work of Product Management is so broad and varied. It’s almost impossible to create standardised job tasks for each type of product role. Our inability to agree on a set of standardised job tasks doesn’t bode well for Product Management in Australia. If, as a profession, we cannot agree on what each role should be doing, we may never be able to galvanise and present the Product Management profession as a single, united front.

Having standardised job tasks that could be used by organisations to create job descriptions brings many benefits. Some common Product Management tasks include but certainly not limited to:

  1. Experimentation
  2. Opportunity Assessment
  3. Value Proposition Design
  4. Revenue Modelling
  5. Investment Proposals
  6. Vision Development
  7. Product Strategy Design and Communication
  8. Roadmapping and Prioritisation
  9. User Story Mapping
  10. Product Tracking and Reporting

By having a list of standardised job tasks means that both sides of the hiring marketplace have a deeper appreciation of the tasks required of a Product Manager. Having a set of standardised tasks shortens and simplifies the recruitment process, enabling companies to find more appropriate candidates that can perform the job competently. The economic benefits of a competent Product Manager are considerable, as Product Management is the engine of growth of any organisation.

Australia’s Product Leaders

Sustain Digital, an Australian recruitment firm and Brainmates, a Product Management consultancy, recently hosted a lunch with senior Product leaders. Representatives from nine different companies came together in Sydney to discuss the topic of Product Manager job tasks and titles. We wanted to ambitiously begin standardising job tasks across different sized businesses and industries.

These leaders have a lot to contribute to the Australian Product Management narrative.

Job Titles Used As A Reward Tool

The group raised many issues during the two-hour discussion including the fact that job titles aren’t only used for hiring suitable candidates, but are also used for retention. Job titles are creatively co-designed by leaders and those involved as a reward tool for hardworking individuals. Thereby, ‘diluting’ the work and, potentially, the true role of Product Manager.

Confusion About The Product Marketing Manager Role

The role of the Product Marketing Manager in Australia is relatively unknown and often misunderstood. In Australia, the role is very much relegated to a narrow set of go-to-market activities. In the US, the Product Marketing Manager role is more strategic, usually responsible for product strategy and positioning. Conversely, in Australia, this role is almost borne out of urgency. As the work of the Product Manager expands in relation to the success of his or her product, tasks are carved out, contained and titled as a different role. In the case of Product Launch tasks, Australia created the Product Marketing Manager role to fulfil go-to-market tasks.

For The Moment, The Product Owner Role Is Here To Stay

The confusion between the Product Manager and the Product Owner role is rife in Australia. The rise of Scrum has introduced the term Product Owner and has made it more complex to structure Product Management teams and assign titles. When the Product Owner role and title is used in Scrum, it makes sense. But, extrapolate that role and title across the organisation and it breaks down, making people question what exactly does a Product Owner do outside of Scrum.

While there are several ways to organise Product teams, here are the three most common:

  • Model 1: Some organisations actively choose to divide Product Management tasks between the Product Manager and Product Owner.
  • Model 2: Other organisations believe that both strategic and delivery tasks should be performed by one role, the Product Manager.
  • Model 3: There are organisations that completely do away with the Product Manager title and only use the title Product Owner.

There are benefits in all three models. The first model offers a deeper focus on the task at hand and role specialisation which means that there is deeper expertise. The second model ensures that the strategic Product Management thinking from concept to launch remains intact, ensuring that there is no divide between the why (why are we making this product?) and the what (what are we making?). Changing the title of your Product workforce from Product Owner to Product Manager does lift team behaviour. According to one Product leader, it makes the team feel more empowered.

The benefits of the third model, according to Roman Pichler, is that organisations without a Product Management function can bypass the transformation of traditional ways of working to more agile practices.

The second model is where many organisations begin, but as the organisation matures and the workload increases, the first model is where they finally land. Product Managers and Product Owners can and do co-exist well. The key aspect is ensuring that both teams work in a safe environment where healthy debate and discussion can ensue.

The third model is applied at some start-ups whose founders are considered the Product Manager, and large enterprises who want to shake off the shackles of bureaucratic ways of working.

Product Management Is A Team Sport

Ultimately, Product Management is a team sport which recognises that no one individual is capable of fulfilling all of Product Management with excellence. Someone adept at strategic thinking and value proposition design may not be the best at working closely with developers. Companies must formally design practices and processes that consider the limitations of human skills. When systems are in place, Product Managers can worry less about how to perform every necessary task and instead focus on the bigger picture of what they’re directing.

The Debate And Discussion Continues

This discussion is the tip of a massive Product Management iceberg. There are so many avenues that need to be explored and resolved with respect to job tasks, roles, titles, team structure and remuneration. If we don’t tackle these issues collaboratively, we’ll make it difficult for our profession to hire, to train and to retain.

Come And Join The Revolution

For the moment, before we’re moved to action, we should continue to come together to understand our Product Management challenges. Then, my wish is for the leaders of this community to set some standards. Be it, job tasks, assessment criteria, performance standards… The list continues.

The next Product Leaders discussion is on the 15th of October in Melbourne. Drop us a note if you’re interested in participating.

Adrienne Tan

Adrienne Tan | Author

Adrienne is Co-Founder and CEO of Brainmates and Co-Founder of Leading the Product. She has been championing Product Management since 2000, earning international recognition for raising the profile of the Product Management profession. In this capacity she regularly consults to the Asia-Pacific's top businesses and speaks at business and Product events around the world.

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