Keep It Simple, Stupid

Keep it simple stupid graphic

Someone recently asked:

Why can’t people simply say that, effectively, a product manager is an internal specialist salesperson that markets their group’s product internally, and sometimes externally through relationship managers? Why not keep it simple, stupid?

Many—perhaps most—organizations have their own definition about the roles in product management, and most of them vary wildly. There are many title variations and many interpretations of these roles. One problem is that most internal teams see product management only through the eyes of their own team. 

Sales teams expect product management to perform sales support. 

Marketing teams expect product content.

Development teams expect real-time answers to their questions. 

They all see product management as their product support. 

In the early days of a company, the sales team represents the customer. But as companies get smarter, they realize the sales team isn’t representing the market—they’re representing the deals they’re working. These companies start having problems building functionality because the requests from the salespeople are incomprehensible to the developers. Furthermore, the “back of the napkin” business planning that started the company is no longer suitable for new products. 

Enter the product manager. The product manager identifies markets to serve that align with the company’s strategies and distinctive competencies, profiles the buyers and users in the market, and researches their needs. They articulate these market needs in a form developers can understand—problem statements, jobs-to-be-done, feature statements—and they monitor the progress of delivering those features. That is, they do continuous problem discovery and solution validation. 

(Notice how “sales” and “marketing” never came up in what I wrote.)

Product management roles take a systematic, market-focused, data-informed approach to defining and delivering products. They focus on markets, not customers. They focus on problems, not solutions. They empower their development, marketing, sales and support teams with market and domain knowledge so those teams can do their best work.

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Steve Johnson

Steve Johnson

Steve Johnson was a founding instructor at Pragmatic Institute, a role he held for more than 15 years before he left to start Under10 Playbook. In his return to Pragmatic Institute, Steve supports the complete learning path for product teams, ensuring they are fully armed for success.  Over the course of his career, Steve has helped thousands of companies and tens of thousands of product professionals implement product management processes. He has worked in the high-tech arena since 1981, rising through the ranks from product manager to chief marketing officer. Steve has experience in technical, sales and marketing management positions at companies that specialize in both hardware and software. In addition, he is an author, speaker and advisor on product strategy and product management.

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