It should not come as a surprise that product management roles vary across different companies. The Product Management Benchmark Report 2017 from the Product Management Festival reveals that there is varied spectrum of key product management responsibilities. It includes product strategy, requirements gathering and marketing & sales, among others.
Product roles vary across organizations from two key perspectives. First is product & market attributes. Second is organizational variables.

In this post I’ll touch upon the product & market attributes first.

Product & Market Attributes

1. Type of market served

In the Product Management and Marketing Survey by Pragmatic Marketing, 80% of product managers worked with products that primarily served B2B markets, while 9% primarily served B2C markets. The sales process of B2B products differs from that of B2C products. Additionally the way pricing is determined and communicated, is very different. These aspects drastically impact the stakeholder map for product managers. In a B2B case, collaborating with the sales organization (sales executives, pre-sales, bid management et al) becomes a key part of the product role. The degree of involvement of a product manager in individual sales prospects depends on how well the sales is equipped. In case of B2C products on the other hand, using marketing for new customer acquisition is key. Increasing product awareness, ensuring right messaging (and hence positioning) about the product is key to building perception and driving sales. Hence a product manager invests more time collaborating with marketing to define positioning & outbound messaging. Additionally working with product development teams, the product manager ensures specifications are in line with the key value proposition and at level of quality as best represented by the brand.
The (key) stakeholder map varies greatly in the two contexts. It effects way of work and the key considerations when working with members of those teams, impacting the finer details of a product manager role

2. Type of the product

The type of product being developed can be different – hardware, software or services. In today’s converged world, it can even be a hybrid combination of all this. How does it impact the role of product managers? Different product development processes inherently fit the kind of product built. Software solutions that need internet connectivity to function are candidates for frequent updates. They give flexibility in terms of rolling out new features &  bug fixes in addition to some degree of freedom on timelines. On the other side, developing semiconductor solutions, cars or pharmaceutical drugs have different process needs. In this second scenario the development speeds are slower. The time taken to turn around a new concept to a final product in the customer’s hands, thus creating real business impact is long. This in turn, influences the tools available to learn about product usage and gather user feedback.
The product development process, driven by the kind of product, plays a crucial role in determining the time taken to create a business impact

3. Stage of the product

Imagine a new brilliant idea developed at startups, or a new product launched at a mid-sized enterprise. Product managers have the flexibility to experiment with choosing which problems to solve. The development teams have a leeway to try different approaches to solve them without antagonizing users. Testing and iterating on pricing is possible with such products.
On the other side of the spectrum are ‘existing products‘. Inheriting such products come with their share of challenges. Legacy customer base is a massive challenge for companies when introducing new feature that solve more problems. The solution space is limited to ensure no-glitches in roll out and usability. You don’t want customer care to spend time answering questions like “where did the home button on the UI disappear?”. Customers benchmark these products with our own existing solutions and also competitive solutions.
The stage of the product defines the degree of freedom a product manager gets when considering new features and improvements in the product

4. Maturity of the market

Products can belong to markets which are growing (say IoT…). Alternatively, they could be part of a flat (no net growth) or worse shrinking markets (like the global TV markets). This effects the flexibility product managers have to play with business models. In the flat or shrinking markets, the sales process (in B2B) is well defined. The messaging about the product (in B2C) is well articulated. Companies have low appetite for additional investments – even if it means improving customer satisfaction or reducing operational costs. In growing markets, their is still appetite to test, fail and iterate. Product managers can constantly learn about the evolving market needs and aim at fulfilling those needs profitably. Additional investments are available to try for better business outcomes with the product.
The maturity level of the market defines the constraints of business model experimentation and investment levels in the product.

Wrapping up

Ask loads of questions before moving into product roles. Clarifying questions help understand the scope of responsibilities and the degree to freedom available. It also helps to understand the degree of business impact the product manager can create in the role. Knowing what landscape you will land into will help you make a better judgement of using your abilities to deliver stellar business outcome.

In the next post I will write about the second perspective of organizational variables that influence the job description of a product manager.

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How to decipher product management roles (part 1)

Time to read: 4 min