Product Roles: The Role of a Director of Product Management

We continue our series on Product Roles and how each role varies, while focusing 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.

In this third post of the series, we dive into the Director of Product Management role.

From our first post in the series:

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.

These people have two essential responsibilities. First, they must build a strong team of product managers. Second, they may be responsible for the company’s overall product strategy (if there is no VP) and more commonly, they oversee various products in the company’s portfolio.

The director of product management is really an enabler, mentor and one who often brings process. Their job is to guide, and remove roadblocks while establishing expectations and goals. Directors need to trust in their PM’s ability to execute and the director needs to be the uniting force that ensures their success. This role is one with influence, but often less “power” than the PM has on the product.

Establishing process, building mentor tracts, and championing learning are often some of the primary responsibilities a director will have. The key is to recognize the shift from a doer to enabler.

A typical job description for a Director of Product Manager often includes (with some added company specific, cultural fit type requirements):

  • Providing product portfolio management, mentoring and training Product Managers in best practices, and managing products as needed to support the company’s strategic goals.
  • Owning the end-to-end Product and Solution portfolio and associated financial performance with a P&L orientation.
  • Providing leadership for the product development process across Sales, Marketing, IT, and Operations.

This role is one that works across the organization and negotiates up and down to keep a Product Portfolio on track. It is demanding and time consuming, but with a strong Product Management team, it is highly rewarding when thing go right. Conversely, this person can sink a company if they are not successful.

Product Roles: The Role of a Product Manager

The Product Roles series focuses 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.

In this second post of the series, We are going to dive into the Product Management role a bit more. This description is one of the best over arching summaries we can offer. We will try to talk about day-to-day tasks and what it means to “Be the CEO of your Product.” Some aspect of Product Management include Product Marketing, Product Strategy, or the delineation Agile sometimes put on roles (Product Owner, Business Analyst, etc.). 

From our first post in the series:

Starting with Product Managers – they fundamentally look after individual products/services: shepherding the short-term development efforts and long-term strategy. They work to keep a 3-12 month roadmap that’s coherent. There are manymanymany 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.

At the core, The product manager is the person responsible for doing the market research, evaluating and prioritizing the features that will drive the largest benefit for the customer and then validating that feature selection hypothesis (without feedback it is important to know you only have a hypothesis on what will drive the most value). The validation process happens in lots of ways: some build an MVP, some build out the feature in it’s entirety and some merely shop ideas without dev effort at all.

A typical job description for a Product Manager often looks like this (with some added company specific, cultural fit type requirements):

  • Managing the product life cycle from start to end (strategic planning to tactical activities)
  • Specifying market requirements for current and future products by conducting market research
  • Delivering value by working with cross-functional teams (primarily Development/Engineering, and Marketing Communications) to clarify market requirements, product contract, and positioning.
  • Developing and implementing a company-wide go-to-market plan (often times called a roadmap), working with all departments to execute.

These four things may sound easy, but if done well, they are incredibly time consuming and often require heavy context switching. Product Management is an exciting and challenging role; one which can afford you lots of freedom and responsibility. Get it right, and you’re off to the races. Get it wrong and the organization will languish and sputter to see any real success.

 

Good Product Manager/Bad Product Manager

This is a repost from Ben Horowitz:

Good product managers know the market, the product, the product line and the competition extremely well and operate from a strong basis of knowledge and confidence. A good product manager is the CEO of the product. A good product manager takes full responsibility and measures themselves in terms of the success of the product. The are responsible for right product/right time and all that entails. A good product manager knows the context going in (the company, our revenue funding, competition, etc.), and they take responsibility for devising and executing a winning plan (no excuses).

Bad product managers have lots of excuses. Not enough funding, the engineering manager is an idiot, Microsoft has 10 times as many engineers working on it, I’m overworked, I don’t get enough direction. Barksdale doesn’t make these kinds of excuses and neither should the CEO of a product.

Good product managers don’t get all of their time sucked up by the various organizations that must work together to deliver right product right time. They don’t take all the product team minutes, they don’t project manage the various functions, they are not gophers for engineering. They are not part of the product team; they manage the product team. Engineering teams don’t consider Good Product Managers a “marketing resource.” Good product managers are the marketing counterpart of the engineering manager. Good product managers crisply define the target, the “what” (as opposed to the how) and manage the delivery of the “what.” Bad product managers feel best about themselves when they figure out “how”. Good product managers communicate crisply to engineering in writing as well as verbally. Good product managers don’t give direction informally. Good product managers gather information informally.

Good product managers create leveragable collateral, FAQs, presentations, white papers. Bad product managers complain that they spend all day answering questions for the sales force and are swamped. Good product managers anticipate the serious product flaws and build real solutions. Bad product managers put out fires all day. Good product managers take written positions on important issues (competitive silver bullets, tough architectural choices, tough product decisions, markets to attack or yield). Bad product managers voice their opinion verbally and lament that the “powers that be” won’t let it happen. Once bad product managers fail, they point out that they predicted they would fail.

Good product managers focus the team on revenue and customers. Bad product managers focus team on how many features Microsoft is building. Good product managers define good products that can be executed with a strong effort. Bad product managers define good products that can’t be executed or let engineering build whatever they want (i.e. solve the hardest problem).

Good product managers think in terms of delivering superior value to the market place during inbound planning and achieving market share and revenue goals during outbound. Bad product managers get very confused about the differences amongst delivering value, matching competitive features, pricing, and ubiquity. Good product managers decompose problems. Bad product managers combine all problems into one.

Good product managers think about the story they want written by the press. Bad product managers think about covering every feature and being really technically accurate with the press. Good product managers ask the press questions. Bad product managers answer any press question. Good product managers assume press and analyst people are really smart. Bad product managers assume that press and analysts are dumb because they don’t understand the difference between “push” and “simulated push.”

Good product managers err on the side of clarity vs. explaining the obvious. Bad product managers never explain the obvious. Good product managers define their job and their success. Bad product managers constantly want to be told what to do.

Good product managers send their status reports in on time every week, because they are disciplined. Bad product managers forget to send in their status reports on time, because they don’t value discipline.

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.