Why You Don’t Want This Product Manager Job

    By Kirsten Butzow, Pragmatic Institute Instructor

A former colleague recently wanted to hire a product manager and asked if I could recommend anyone. They mentioned that the previous employee had just quit and they were having trouble keeping someone in that position. I said I would look at the job description and see if I could lend a hand.

Initially, I was excited as I read the first paragraph; the organization seemed to understand the strategic role of product management and how it directly translates into building great products. The description began by emphasizing that the product manager was viewed a key leadership role, the acting CEO of their product.

The company seemed to recognize that great products are the direct result of developing a deep knowledge of your market, customers, personas and their problems and, to that end, emphasized the importance of the product manager spending time outside of the office so that they could understand the pulse of their market.   

But after reviewing the job description, I realized that—while I certainly knew plenty of talented product professionals—it was unlikely that anyone would find success in the role the way it was described. In good conscience, I could not recommend anyone for this job.

What follows is that job description and why I think it is a perfect example of a product manager job you don’t want.

As product manager, you are the CEO of your product and will drive profitability and guide your team to develop new solutions and increase customer satisfaction. You will build products from existing ideas, and help to develop new ideas based on your experience and your contact with customers and prospects. You must possess a unique blend of business savvy and have a big-picture vision and the drive to make that vision a reality. You must enjoy spending time with customers to understand market problems and personas, and find innovative solutions and opportunities.

Very quickly the role became murkier, and the rest of the description included a seemingly random list of responsibilities that would be nearly impossible for any one person to master:       

  • Create SEO and SEM strategies.
  • As the product expert, you are responsible for ensuring that customer support, operations and sales and marketing are trained and ready to sell, support and service your products.
  • You will work with marketing communications to define the go-to-market strategy, helping them understand the product features, key benefits and target customer.
  • You will work closely with engineering by translating the solution vision into clearly articulated user stories and end-to-end use cases and functional requirements.
  • You will be responsible for approving all product designs and deliverables.
  • You will act as the product owner and lead agile development teams throughout the development process and drive engineering release planning.

I remember thinking, “How can the product manager simultaneously be responsible for engineering release planning, product training, all marketing planning and product design?”   

This array of job responsibilities indicated that the organization either did not understand the strategic role of product management, or did not have the resources to get the necessary work done. Therefore, they decided to make the position a repository for everything that wasn’t getting done, which didn’t spell success for the person in that role. 

When you think about it, there are three key categories of activities that must be performed to conceive, build and deliver a product to market. 

  1. Plan – Product planning should be driven by someone with extensive market expertise. That person must be directly responsible for spending the majority of their time in the market, understanding customers and prospects and quantifying that opportunity for the business. The product manager should be directly responsible for this work. 
  1. Build – During the building phase of product delivery, you need a team of people responsible for designing, building and outlining the release planning. Each type of build work is distinctive and requires special skills sets including, UX/UI designers, engineers, engineering project managers and quality assurance. It is unlikely that one individual will possesses all of these skills. This work should be performed by your design, engineering and development teams and, while the product manager needs to have visibility into the build, they should not be responsible for managing product engineering. 
  1. Deliver – Product delivery, like build, has several key elements. First, we need a solid marketing plan that contains the go-to-market strategy based on a clear understanding of our buyers. However, we also need to ensure operational readiness so that we can support our products once they have launched into the market. It would be common that your marketing planning would be owned by a product marketing team and each functional area would be responsible for launch readiness, such as customer support and services. As with engineering, this work would be performed by a variety of individuals in multiple roles and the product leader would have visibility into the work, but wouldn’t manage it on a daily basis.

When I reviewed the job outline, I realized that the description fell into the classic trap of trying to create a role that is everything to everybody. They expected this person to own and perform all key plan, build and deliver activities.

I told my former colleague that the company needed to rethink the role of product management along these lines. Otherwise, that job would remain a revolving door where success remained elusive.   

Kirsten Butzow

Kirsten Butzow

Kirsten Butzow has 20 years of experience at leading technology companies, including Fujitsu, Pearson and most recently Blackboard. She has held vice president roles for the past 10 years, allowing her to bring a strong executive perspective to her role as a Pragmatic Institute instructor. She has directed product management portfolios, created business plans and strategic product roadmaps and implemented many aspects of the Pragmatic Institute Framework. She brings this firsthand experience to every course she teaches.

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