Product Roles: Overview of a Product Manager versus Director versus VP

We are going to kick off our Blog with a series on Product Roles and how each role varies. This series will focus on the work each Product role can play in an organization. Please keep in mind, product team’s responsibilities can be highly varied. Some organizations have parsed these job functions to other roles, sometimes across departments. The success of that parsing will vary from company to company. In this series, we will focus on what we feel the roles entail in a “typical” product organization.

Welcome to Product Management! Let’s start out the series with a quick summary of each job title most common in product organizations. This summary is the most straight forward explanation we could distill the roles into and does not consider Product Marketing, Product Strategy or the delineation Agile sometimes put on roles (Product Owner, Business Analyst, etc.). 

Starting with Product Managers – they fundamentally look after individual products/services: shepherding the short-term development efforts and long-term strategy work to keep a 3-12 month roadmap that’s coherent. There are many, many, many resources out there that describe the intricacies of this role. At the end of the day, you want to empower these people to own the vision, execution, and support of a product/service vertical. You want to ensure they are accountable for the results the product is delivering.

Directors of Product Management look after the business of product management. They usually help oversee the cohesion of multiple product/service verticals and they should be the guiding light on the process and tools used to report the product team’s direction. They are the stabilizing and negotiating hand that ensure teams are operating with synergy. They know when to step in to support a Product Manager and they, most importantly, know when to step back from the Product Manager to let her flourish.

The VP of Product Management functions as senior staff to the rest of the executive team making sure that the company as a whole is building, shipping and supporting the right products. They are the product manager of the organization itself and they should be brokering, negotiating and setting expectations both up and down the organization. These folks should be a beacon at the executive level who represents product/market/company success rather than any one specific function. Thinking more broadly than Engineering, Marketing, Sales or Support. They need to have deep experience in navigating short-term, choppy waters, while plotting the course that will enable long term smooth sailing. They are the one most likely to say “Yes, but the right thing for our long-term business and the markets we serve is… (source)”

In very small organizations, the Director role is probably not necessary; you may find the VP is doing product manager work or vice versa (depends on how cheap titles are in your organization). In the next part of this series, we will dive deeper into the Product Manager role and how we feel it shapes up in different organization sizes. Share your thoughts below in the comment section as to how this relates to your experiences.

 

 

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