Misconceptions about Product Management

Question: "There is a lack of understanding or some sort of prevailing misconception about what a product manager's job is all about. What might be the source of this confusion? Why nearly every product manager's job description out there looks different?"

There is indeed a lack of understanding on the function of product management and hence the great variance in job descriptions for a product manager, especially in the technology industry.

The reason for the misconception is that an early lack of proper subject matter consolidation in product management and the fast-paced growth of technology industries have caused companies to mistakenly accept a definition that presumes that product management is a collective term that is used to describe the broad sum of diverse activities performed in the interest of delivering a particular product to market. By exclusion of doing sales and product development which are naturally reserved for the sales people and the technical engineers, this means that virtually everything else that needs to be done to support the product delivery program can be assigned to the product manager.

Another key and contributing factor to the confusion is that the different internal culture and dynamics in each company create a different set of roles (role mosaic) that are assigned to the product manager. In each company the internal culture and dynamics shape the roles of a product manager very differently each time they are formed and they are the cause for the acute variance in the product managers' job descriptions.

A common scenario is that in many companies the scope of responsibilities for product managers evolves somewhat erratically. It all begins with a primary role or task that is attributed by the company to the product manager. For example, the primary task could be to write market requirements. Over time the dynamics at the company cause more roles and tasks to be assigned to the product manager. The new and different roles and tasks include anything such as product testing, program management, product demos, sales support, writing marketing collateral, managing product launches, and so forth. So in the end a role mosaic for a product manager's job is formed and it is very different each time it is created and different from the role mosaics that are created at other companies.

A situation with a multitude of inconsistent definitions of product management is bad for companies and employees alike because ambiguity stifles the ability of product managers to effectively perform their roles.

These issues are explained in length in the Blackblot "Product Management Team Model" chapter in the PMTK Book.