Product Job Descriptions

Common job titles and responsibilities for successful product management and marketing teams

The most successful teams are comprised of three roles: a strategic product manager, one or more technical product owners, and a market-facing product marketing manager. Many teams also have a UX designer so all the necessary skills reside in one group with aligned perspectives. This organizational approach has the added benefit of being able to expand easily. That is, this type of product management team includes the necessary expertise to handle a few products (or a single portfolio) without relying on other teams to fill a skills void. As the company expands, you can add similar teams to meet the expanded requirements of additional products.

When organizing product management, look for ways to ensure shared goals. Typically, the product manager is focused on strategy while the product owner is focused on technology. It can be difficult if the product manager, product owner, and product marketing manager are in different departments with differing departmental goals.

Here are some draft job descriptions for each of the key roles.

  • Product Strategy Manager
  • Product Planning Manager
  • Product Growth Manager

Each requires some modification to fit the needs your organization.


PRODUCT STRATEGY MANAGER

PRODUCT STRATEGY MANAGERS are first and foremost business leaders. They propose new products based on a deep understanding of the market, research and analyze the business and competitive aspects of new offerings, and empower other teams to build a suite of products and services that solve real customer problems.

Description

As a PRODUCT STRATEGY MANAGER, you will lead a team that is charged with a product contribution to a Line of Business (LOB). You will guide products from the idea stage to full production, and help to develop new ideas based on your industry experience and your contact with customers. Your primary focus will be delivering products that are valued by our customers.

You must have expertise in business with a big-picture vision and the drive to make that vision a reality. You must enjoy spending time with customers to understand their problems and enjoy working with technical teams to develop innovative solutions. You’ll need to be able to speak truth to power, supporting your decisions with data.

Responsibilities

  • Develop and maintain a product roadmap of releases, initiatives and epics
  • Work with leadership to align product plans with portfolio vision and architectural epics
  • Work with branding and marketing teams to help them understand the key personas and product capabilities
  • Work closely with release management and system teams to define architecture, user experience, and innovative product capabilities
  • Work with playbook holders and line-of-business leaders to validate concepts, themes, vision, and prototypes
  • Specify requirements for current and future products supported by market research and on-going interaction with both customers and non-customers
  • Balance priorities between maintenance requirements, architecture, and new features
  • Develop and maintain program objectives and success measurements (KPIs) such as new playbook holder acquisition and retention
  • Define the planned date and content for a product release to playbook holders
  • Participate in release and product retrospectives with system teams
  • Focus on product deliverables for the next 3 to 6 months

Requirements

  • 3+ years of software product management experience
  • Strong analytical mindset
  • Knowledgeable in technology
  • Experience with [domain] a strong plus
  • MBA desired
  • This position requires travel to customer sites (30%)

PRODUCT PLANNING MANAGER

Sometimes called Product owners, PRODUCT PLANNING MANAGERS develop a deep understanding of the product and its technical capabilities; they achieve this by working with the product, by discussing it with customers and colleagues, and by keeping current on the industry. For a PRODUCT PLANNING MANAGER, the product almost becomes their personal hobby.

Description

As PRODUCT PLANNING MANAGER, you will be dedicated to a product team, serving as the customer representative in all team meetings. Your primary focus will be delivering releases that are feature-complete and timely.

The PRODUCT PLANNING MANAGER is the member of the team responsible for both defining and prioritizing the release backlog. You will work closely with the team to define architecture, user experience, and product capabilities. The PRODUCT PLANNING MANAGER has final authority representing the customer’s interest in backlog prioritization and requirements questions.

The PRODUCT PLANNING MANAGER must be available to the team at any time, particularly during the sprint planning meeting and the sprint review meeting. In addition, the PRODUCT PLANNING MANAGER has a significant role in quality, and is the only team member empowered to accept new stories into the release backlog.

The PRODUCT PLANNING MANAGER reports to a PRODUCT STRATEGY MANAGER and will take direction from the product roadmap to guide the product releases and iterations.

Responsibilities

  • Serve as the customer representative in all team meetings
  • Responsible for maximizing the value of the release
  • Participate in product planning and forecasts with the product management team
  • Contribute to the product backlog and roadmap
  • Maintain and prioritize the release backlog
  • Define the date and content for a release
  • Create and maintain business and user persona definitions
  • Define user stories and acceptance criteria for product capabilities, as well as elaborating stories on a just-in-time basis with the team
  • Develop and maintain technical success measurements (KPIs) such as reduced defects and reduced customer complaints.
  • Accept stories into the release backlog and accept the completion of each iteration
  • Attend daily stand-ups and other status meetings
  • Maintain and report product status such as burn up/burn down and velocity charts
  • Participate in sprint retrospectives with the agile team
  • Focus on release deliverables for the next 3 to 6 weeks

Requirements

  • 1+ years of technical product management or business analyst experience.
  • Knowledgeable in technology.
  • Experience with [domain] a strong plus.
  • Computer Science or Engineering degree or work experience a plus.
  • This position requires limited travel to customer sites (20%).
  • Scrum Product Owner Certification or Scrummaster Certification desired.

PRODUCT GROWTH MANAGER

PRODUCT GROWTH MANAGERS, often called Product Marketing Managers, are focused on markets, either vertical or geographic. They use their market expertise to empower product management, marketing, and sales with the requirements and language of their market, and they serve as the chief liaison from the market to the company. The PRODUCT GROWTH MANAGER focuses on sales enablement and go-to-market planning so that when the product is delivered, there are people who want to buy it.

Description

As a PRODUCT GROWTH MANAGER, you will be the internal advocate for the needs of your market and the external evangelist of our products to the market. You’ll research your market, forecast its size and expected growth, document its requirements, and champion the market in all go-to-market decisions. As a PRODUCT GROWTH MANAGER, you’ll work with marketing communications to deliver tools that empower sales teams and customers.

You must have market expertise and the passion to bring our products to your market. You will spend time with customers to understand their evolving needs. You must enjoy working with marketing and sales teams to deliver the tools necessary for market success.

Responsibilities

  • Evangelize products to your market
  • Research market requirements and forecasts for new portfolio opportunities
  • Maintain product success metrics for your market
  • Document and maintain key competitor profiles
  • Recommend market-specific enhancements for all portfolio products
  • Define and socialize target market segments and personas
  • Research and document the buyer’s journey
  • Analyze sales win and loss data to refine the sales playbook
  • Develop market-specific launch criteria for new product introduction
  • Work with branding and marketing teams to help them understand the key market personas and product capabilities
  • Work with product management and technical teams to help them understand the critical product stories for your market
  • Work with sales and playbook teams to document the buying process and identify key sales enablement tools
  • Provide product and domain content focused on the market

Requirements

  • 5 years of experience in product management or marketing
  • Proven ability to communicate with customers, sales people, and executives
  • Strong analytical mindset
  • Knowledgeable in technology
  • Experience with our domain a strong plus
  • MBA desired
  • This position requires travel to customer sites (30%)

For more on expertise and processes in product management, get Turn Ideas Into Products, available on Amazon.

Your First Days… as Product Manager

You’re in your first days as a product manager. In no time, your calendar will be full and you’ll have a zillion emails. There’s so much to do. Where should you begin?

Before the demands of others overwhelm you, you need to prepare yourself to be the business and market liaison to the product team. Your role as a product manager or product owner is to make the best business decisions for the product, working from the best available information.

Refresh your domain expertise

If you’ve been in your industry for years, you probably have strong domain expertise but you may not be up-to-date on the latest information.

Review the corporate pitch. Perhaps the fastest way to get up to speed on your company and its role in the industry is to review the product and corporate slide decks. Whether your company is a bellwether in the industry or on the periphery, what’s been said in the past will help you understand how your company and its products are perceived, at least from the perspective of your new organization.

Catch up on the latest blogs and articles. Take time to review the latest thinking in your industry. And even if you’ve been in the domain for years, it’s always helpful to take a new look from your new perspective as a product leader. Reports from industry analysts may reveal new industry trends, and perhaps show how your company and products are influencing them.

Fill out your technical expertise

You may have some familiarity with the product from your past research. Now it’s time to get into the raw details.

Know your new product. What documentation exists for your product? You can probably find some customer documentation and help screens, release notes, product plans, sales and conference presentations, white papers and ebooks, and sales enablement tools. Review them all. Learn the key capabilities, particularly those that are competitive differentiators.

Review the product roadmap. And where is the product headed? Has anyone developed a roadmap for the next few releases? How does what you’re seeing align with what you know about the domain and industry?

Understand the architectural themes and challenges. Talk to the developers about the technical challenges for the product. What percentage of development effort is spent on architecture and defects versus new functionality? And while you’re at it, interview the developers about their perspective on your role in moving the product forward.

Update your market expertise

You likely have some market expertise but it never hurts to give yourself a refresh.

Sit in on some customer support calls. Want to know what’s going on with your product in the field? Ask customer support. They know about technical problems with the product as well as customer implementation problems. Sit in on some support calls and listen to customers directly.

Go on some sales calls. It’s fascinating to examine the contrast between the product as perceived by the product team and by the people in the field. When you’re on a customer visit with your sales team, you’ll hear how the product is being sold—right or wrong. You’ll also hear unfiltered customers’ problems in their own voices. Listen to the language they use; listen to the problems they’re trying to solve. You’ll get plenty of ideas for how to improve the selling and promotion of your products. And you’ll get to know some sales people in a more social setting; they’ll be your contacts in the future when you need advice on sales enablement and product improvements.

Do some installation/implementation visits. For enterprise products, implementation is where all your sales and marketing promises meet the real world. Watch (or help) the implementation teams install the product; sit in on any customer training; examine closely the areas where the product must be configured or customized to work in the customer environment. You’ll definitely get some great ideas on improving the product.

Eventually, you’ll want to start visiting customers without a selling or support objective but get these initial customer touchpoints under your belt first.

Leverage your process expertise

Now that you have a strong understanding of the technology, industry, and domain, take a look at your internal product processes. What methods are used in your organization? Where are the company templates stored? And which of your favorite processes apply to your new situation?

Evaluate existing processes and systems. If you’re stepping into an existing job, you’ll likely find a set of methods that are already in place, formally or not. If you’re part of a new product management team, you’ll want to be a driver in defining your product processes.

What artifacts are necessary? What minimal set ensures success? Is your organization clear on what constitutes a requirement and what’s actually a specification? Which positioning technique is used, if any?

Start your own product playbook. Take all your methods and the company’s methods and put together a set of living documents. You’ll want your product plan and financials, buyer and user profiles, positioning, requirements, maybe a price list or pricing model, and any other documents that you reference often. Print them or store them in your dropbox so you’ll have them handy.

What should product managers do in their first days?

Look for high-impact deliverables that don’t require much up-front effort. Train the sales engineers and product implementation team. Develop informal product champions. Refresh or refine your product positioning, taglines, and blurbs so you can do “copy-and-paste marketing.”

Then focus on the methods to make sure you have a minimal set of effective processes that ensure product success.


For more on expertise and processes in product management, get Turn Ideas Into Products, available on Amazon.

Do We Need Product Management?

Product managers are in charge of whipping up all the other departments and getting them to work together. This is to make sure that the product gets pulled forward by a coordinated team of horses, rather than torn apart by horses running in different directions.

Donald S Passman, author

People in product management roles—product managers, product owners, product marketing managers, and consultants—often talk about job responsibilities, methods, tools, and templates. We start from a presumption that product management is valued, and we focus on getting clarity on its mechanics.

But what about the benefits of product management?

In a world of agile methods and lean startup and business pivot, aren’t the activities of product management already being done by someone? Some by development, some by sales and marketing, some by the leadership, some by the customers themselves. And with today’s product instrumentation, can’t the product itself gather statistics on what people value?

Why do we need product management?

Product management turns product ideas into business results. After all, anyone can have an idea. It’s figuring out the tedious details that turn an idea into a business. Product management does a lot of the hidden business paperwork.

And product management extends beyond product development to promotion, selling, service, support, and operations. A business-savvy product manager answers these questions:

  • What markets should we serve?
  • What markets and businesses should we avoid?
  • Which types of customers (personas) will benefit from what we build?
  • Which features are most important for our market?
  • How do we pare the list of features down to the minimum sellable product (MSP)?
  • What are our business goals and what product decisions are necessary to achieve them?

Why can’t developers just build what they want?

They can… if they are the target market. Vendors of development tools have good luck with building products for themselves but not many vendors have this luxury. Developers have asked product owners and product managers to bring market insights and business rationale to product planning meetings. Developers want market information so they can build the right product. And they expect product managers to provide it.

Doesn’t marketing know what the market wants?

I don’t know; do they? Marketing professionals and product marketing managers are usually more focused on campaigns than products. Are your marketing people expert on the product and its capabilities? Do your marketing people interview clients about the problems they’re trying to solve? Do they bring detailed information back to either product management or development in the form of actionable requirements? I’ve helped companies define a new role—the market owner. Market owners maintain a market roadmap and deliver market requirements to the product management team. That means they need to be schooled in research methods as well as how to write requirements.

Why can’t sales people tell us what to build?

Sales people can tell us about features their prospects need—and this is valuable information—but this is not really what they were hired to do. Sales should focus on getting customers for what we’ve already built. It’s not their job to determine what product to create. Ideally, sales people want a product that is ready to be sold, not one that has to be finished based on prospect feedback.

Why product management?

A product playbook ensures you build the product right and build the right product.Some consider product management the “one throat to choke”—one place to go for answers and one person to take ultimate responsibility. That’s one way of looking at product management. Better yet, the product manager serves as a clearinghouse for all ideas. Product management starts with an idea—whatever the source—and validates the idea in the marketplace.

Justify your leadership’s strategic vision by vetting the idea with the market, assess the impact with a business case or financial plan, and maintain transparency with a portfolio roadmap. This is where business expertise is most needed.

Empower the rest of the organization with artifacts that translate your leadership’s vision into action. To do this, share the roadmap, explain the product’s desired capabilities, and identify the target buyers for the solution.

Analyze your most successful customers to create ideal buyer profiles. Refine your product, marketing, and sales efforts to focus on this ideal. When you design the product for this ideal customer, you’ll have fewer difficult customers, clearer marketing messages, and a shortened sales cycle.

  • Marketing should focus on promoting what we’ve built.
  • Sales should focus on getting customers for what we’ve built.
  • Development should focus on building the product right.
  • Product management should ensure we build the right product.

Do you and your team know how to get from idea to market? Maybe you need a product playbook—a set of tools and methods for consistency in product management deliverables. A product playbook ensures you build the product right and build the right product.

For more on expertise and processes in product management, get Turn Ideas Into Products, available on Amazon.

Do Product Managers Need To Be Technical?

I’ve been hearing about job postings for product managers that require computer science degrees. Is that really necessary?

What I’ve learned is many product managers don’t have adequate technical background to understand the questions or to give practical answers. For example, a product manager demanded a specific capability from the team. After the meeting, the dev lead fully explained the implementation that had just been mandated and the product manager said, “Oh, is that what I asked for?”

Yes, product managers need to know how to communicate with developers and customers. They need to have enough technical ability to understand what’s being asked and roughly what’s possible. Sure, I want a hover-board but they’re just not possible yet.

Another product manager was working on a multi-site monitoring system and tossed around some ways to muscle the capability. One of the developers had just read a paper about a new API that was being developed and realized it would solve the problem with a much lighter, more scalable solution. When presented with the idea, the technically-savvy product manager instantly understood the merits of the API solution and agreed to hold the functionality request until after the API was available.

Does that require a computer science degree? No, but it does require an interest in the ever-changing world of technology.

Honestly, I don’t see how you can be a technology product manager unless you have a passion for technology.

What’s your expertise?

But that’s not enough. You also need to be passionate about your market personas. The people who buy and use your products. And truly, knowledge on buyers and users is what developers really want from product managers. Product teams want a product manager who can explain how a feature would solve a customer problem and be able to detail two or three specific usage scenarios.

Some bright folks—product managers and designers—walked through the various scenarios for wireless car keys—the key fob used to start today’s cars. It should open only the driver’s door when used on that side but open all doors when used on the passenger side. It cannot be locked inside the car or in the luggage compartment. If the battery dies and the doors are locked, the key fob needs a manual key to open the door so you can pop the hood and jump-start the battery. There are probably more. The product manager needs to understand the product’s personas to explain each of these.

Making sure the team has considered the personas and their use scenarios is a key role of product management.

Do you need to be technical? Yes, technical enough. Not as technical as your developers but maybe more technical than your marketers. Yes, technical enough to have a conversation about usage and understand the ramifications of design decisions.

But wait, there’s more. A good product manager must also be expert in the business of the product as well as expert on the market and the domain they support. There are four types of expertise necessary for successful product management.

In my first product management job, I was partnered with a technical product manager. I handled the market and business; he did the technical and domain. Between the two of us, we covered all aspects necessary for successful product management.

The good news is each can be learned. You may be able to find all four in one person, or more likely, you can build a team with experts in all four areas. Take a look at your team. Do you have expertise in business, market, product, and domain?

Product managers don’t need to be technical; they need to be experts. There’s a difference.

For more on expertise and processes in product management, get Turn Ideas Into Products, available on Amazon.

Expertise In Product Management

There are four types of skills needed in product management. Which are you missing?

In recent years, we’ve seen new definitions for old titles and many new titles being created. We’ve got product managers, product marketing managers, product owners, business analysts, product strategists, product line managers, and portfolio managers.

Let’s keep it simple. There are four types of skills needed to define and deliver products to market. Product leaders (by whatever title) attempt to support the team with all four types of knowledge but it’s rare to find all of these capabilities in a single person.


Business expertise

Business expertise is where your traditional business leader or MBA graduate brings strength. These experts know the mechanics of business and can apply that knowledge to your product. A business-oriented expert knows how to use research to determine product feasibility, can determine how the product generates profit with lots of financial analysis to back it up. Ideally these business skills need to be combined with one of the other skills or provided as a support role for the other areas of expertise.

Product expertise

Product expertise is about your technology. From their daily interactions, product managers pick up a deep understanding of product and technical capabilities; they achieve this by playing with the product, by discussing it with customers and developers, by reading and reading and reading. For a technology expert, the product almost becomes their personal hobby. They think of themselves as product experts.

Market expertise

Market expertise is a focus on geographic or vertical markets, either by country or by industry. They know how business is done in that market. They know the major players, and the jargon or colloquialisms of the market. Market experts define themselves by the market they serve: “I’m a banker” or “I support BRIC.”

Domain expertise

Domain expertise is about the discipline your product supports, such as security, fraud detection, or education. Domain experts know (and often define) the standards for the discipline and can explain the latest thinking in that area. They understand the problems that your product endeavors to solve, regardless of the market or industry. And for a domain expert, your product is merely one way of addressing the problems of their specialty. Domain experts define themselves not by the product but by their topic area.


You can see why people often struggle in some areas and breeze through others. And it’s difficult to find one person with all four skills.

Think about the skills you have and the skills you need. Consider the requests you’re getting from development, marketing, sales, customer support, partners, and so on. This will help you determine which expertise is needed to accurately support your organization.

For more on expertise in product management, get Turn Ideas Into Products, available on Amazon.

Advice For Getting Into Product Management

Product management is an exciting role. It can drive product direction and ensure your team builds the right product for the market. It can also be frustrating because other departments have expectations of product management that rarely align with yours.

BUILD EXPERTISE

There are three types of desired skills for product management jobs: technology, market, and business.

Technology expertise

Technology expertise is about how the product works. From their daily interactions, technology experts pick up a deep understanding of product and technical capabilities; they achieve this by playing with the product, by discussing it with customers and developers, by reading and reading and reading. For a technology expert, the product almost becomes their personal hobby. They think of themselves as product experts.

Typical titles: product manager, product owner, technical product manager, business analyst

Market expertise

Market expertise is a focus on geographic or vertical markets, either by country or by industry. They know how business is done in that market. They know the major players, and the jargon or colloquialisms of the market. Market experts define themselves by the market they serve: “I’m a banker” or “I support BRIC.”

Typical titles: industry manager, product marketing manager, field marketing manager

Business expertise

Business expertise is where your traditional business leader or MBA graduate brings strength. These experts know the mechanics of business and can apply that knowledge to your product. A business-oriented expert knows how to use research to determine product feasibility, can determine how the product generates profit with lots of financial analysis to back it up. Ideally these business skills need to be combined with one of the other skills or provided as a support role for the other areas of expertise.

Typical titles: product strategist, product leader, portfolio manager

BUILD DOMAIN SKILLS

The thing that makes the real difference between good and great is domain expertise. Domain knowledge comes from years of experience in one particular field.  For example, you can learn a lot about healthcare by reading published materials but they won’t give you the deep insights that come from working in a hospital. In teaching, it’s understanding how passion for children’s growth is quickly eradicated by the reality of too many kids in a class, too many disruptive kids in a class, and too many non-teaching expectations from both parents and administrators. Domain expertise is about understanding the difference between how people should perform their jobs and how they actually perform them.

It’s this deep domain expertise—a passion—that is so hard to find. That’s the area where people who want to get into product management should leverage.

So here’s the real question: what is your passion?

Regardless of your title, people come to those who know what they’re talking about. Start sharing your domain knowledge and you will become known internally as the “go to” person on your topic.

So keep up with your specialty. Read the blogs. Attend the free webinars. And starting writing and speaking internally on your topic. Offer your expertise for your company webinars and seminars. Before you know it, sales people, marketers, developers, and execs will come to rely on you as a company resource—and the obvious choice when a product management position opens up.

BUILD YOUR NETWORK

Just as you’ve been building and sharing your domain skills, look for ways to build your product management skills. Make friends with the product managers. Get them to explain what they do. Offer to help with their projects. Become a product management resource.

And network outside the company too. There are local product management associations and free productcamps in most high-tech areas. See productcamp.org for a list of upcoming events.

I know a product manager who volunteered her way to the job. She helped out with a local conference, trained the development teams on personas and their issues, and wrote an internal blog about the topic. People thought she had the job long before she formally got the job.

I’ve always had the best results when recruiting sales engineers, usually from other companies, to join my team as product manager. They have domain skills and the ability to learn. And they’re unlikely to be promoted internally since the sales engineer role is so critical. The best hire of all is your competitor’s top sales engineer—you get a great product manager and they lose their best sales engineer.

Sadly, it usually difficult to move into product management. Hiring managers usually want people who have proven product management skills. So look for ways to prove that you have the experience even if you don’t have the title.

For more on expertise and processes in product management, get Turn Ideas Into Products, available on Amazon.