What Is Product Management?

For $800, Alex

If you’re in product development, you’ve probably tried explaining product management to someone. I know I have.


In fact, I’ve written two full articles on the subject:

I’ve clearly failed in explaining product management, so why not try again? My wife actually suggested it. She thought it would be fun to ask my family what I do as a product manager and see if anyone knew, especially since I’ve been in the profession for over a decade and have explained it many times in many ways. So that’s what we did.

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I present to you the general responses to “What do I do as a product manager?”:

Mom: You do managing of the products. You work with different groups to manage things. A lot like project management, right? I don’t really know.

(Little stabs to the heart).

Dad: No, no, no. You work on different apps, managing them and making things, right? Working with technology and developers.

(Feeling a little better).

Wife: You work with developers to make stuff. You do OKRs and OKR stuff and strategy and prioritization and more OKRs.

(Laughing a little because I’ve been focused on OKRs recently, so she’s been hearing a lot about OKRs and has really taken that to heart. She doesn’t like that though).

Do you know what you do?

Kids: You sit at the computer and do a call all day.

Yeah, dumb calls that aren’t important.

(Wow, cutting to the core. Kids don’t mess around).

Challenge Accepted

Alright, so what do we do as product managers? For those who don’t work in product development.

I asked my parents for their favorite app on their phone. It’s Google Maps. My mom is a tour guide and uses it all the time to get around. So that will be a great use case.

Imagine that we want to create Google Maps, but for Target. So whenever we go to Target, we can search for something we need, and get real directions for how to find it. Along with where it is on the shelf. Not just a static map, but a fully helpful experience like Google Maps has now for driving.

And maybe even taking it further where we could plan a shopping trip with our list and guide us through the whole thing in the best way possible, so we don’t go back and forth, but find everything we need with guided directions without ever having to look at our phone.

Sounds like a cool idea. Everyone agreed. But how do we do it? That was the question I posed. Well, we need a bunch of different things.

First, we need to understand our users. Who will use this? How will they use it? Is it solving a real problem for them and it is something users would get value from?

Next, is it something we can handle as a business? Does it make sense to do? If we’re Target, will it drive new customers and drive new revenue? If we’re an app maker, could we sustain a business through ads or downloads or a partnership?

Finally, can we technically do it? Can we build this thing and make it work well enough that people will use it and love it?

A product manager brings all of those things together. She talks to users before, during, and after the team develops a product. She makes sure there is a good business for what they built. And she works with the developers to build the thing and get it out to people to use.

When we saw my family again, I posed the question again about “what do I do.” It seemed like my minor example stuck, which was pretty good for an off-the-cuff example of product management. It’s not everything, and not perfect, but it certainly addresses the major themes of product management.

So next time you’re trying to explain “what is product management”, forget the long-winded explanations, and pull out the close-to-home examples. Your family may thank you for it.

Good Articles, Listens, and Videos

The Future of Productivity in a Post-Covid World (panel) - I had the opportunity to join a panel discussion on the future of productivity this past week. It was a great discussion with a few different viewpoints. The recording is linked above. I’ll be putting together a long read on the future of office work post covid, so don’t forget to subscribe for that.

Clubhouse Comes To Android (article) - I’m excited about the future of audio spaces. That doesn’t mean Clubhouse will be the winner, but I think the space has a ton of potential to bring people together in a meaningful way. Not necessarily synchronous podcasts (which make little sense to me), but group discussions and meeting people with similar interests, among other things. But getting Clubhouse on Android is long overdue. iOS exclusivity shouldn’t drag on this long.

Here’s the hacking group responsible for the Colonial Pipeline shutdown (article) - “We are apolitical, we do not participate in geopolitics, do not need to tie us with a defined government and look for our motives,” the statement said. “Our goal is to make money, and not creating problems for society. From today we introduce moderation and check each company that our partners want to encrypt to avoid social consequences in the future.” Crazy stuff. But we can’t rely on the ethics of hackers to not do bad things in the future.

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