What is product management?
Have you ever been at a dinner party when someone asks what you do for a living? It used to be one of my most dreaded questions. I love talking about product management and anything to do with product but it's just so damn difficult to explain product management to regular people that I would cringe when someone asked me.
You could try to respond with some rambling story about what you did this week but you'll find you have to provide so much context about the specific product you work on and the work environment that you'll lose peoples attention in a matter of seconds.
These days I have a concise definition of what product management is that I can use as a jumping off point to explain the concepts to almost anyone. My Mom still doesn't get it but she loves me anyway!
A product manager's job is to drive the vision, strategy, design, and success of the product.
Most people get what a product is so this part is easy enough. To drive the point home, you can use products they are familiar with like Netflix or shampoo and contrast that with services they are familiar with like housekeeping or haircuts.
Knowing what a product is doesn't necessarily explain what a product manager is. I'm not the manager of Netflix or shampoo. The CEO is the manager of Netflix and I guarantee that there are more product managers at Netflix than there are CEOs. What are they all doing?
The product can be a single feature which combines with other features to make up a larger product. I like to use the example of Facebook. Love it or hate it, Facebook has more than a billion users so most people can relate to this example.
The overall product is the entire platform but it's broken down into many features like the newsfeed, the posting experience, groups, marketplace, etc. Each of these might have a different product manager or may even be composed of its own sub-products which each have their own product managers.
Saying that I drive things rather than create them gets across the point that my job is different than engineering or design or other roles who actually build the product. The product manager may share the stated responsibilities with other people and teams. The product manager might drive the design of a product while the actual design work is done by a team of designers.
The product vision is the overarching goal of the product. It should help people see the future that the product intends to create. It describes how the world will look when the product has reached a certain stage. I help people align on a single product vision which then helps them to do their individual jobs with a level of autonomy.
The strategy is the plan to achieve the vision. What features does the product need to achieve various goals and in what order should they be built? How will the product be marketed to potential users? How will feedback be gathered? How can we differentiate from the competitors' products? These are all questions which may be answered in the product strategy.
The design describes the product's form and how the users will interact with it. Again, I'm "driving" the design, not necessarily designing the product myself. I will design it myself if there are no designers available and I have to in order to get some design to work from but I recognise that there is likely someone else at the company who is better at this task than I am.
The success of the product is all the work required to make sure a product is used and available to the people who need it. This might mean chasing up potential users to encourage adoption. It might mean gathering feedback to feedback into the strategy and design.
By the time I've explained all this with liberal examples, most people will come away with a basic understanding of product management and may even be interested to learn more.
Any hey, maybe one of these days I'll actually be able to explain it to my Mom!