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What is Product Management?

Use Product Management to increase your chance of success


If you’re building a digital product e.g. an app or a website, you want it to achieve some kind of goal. e.g. generate revenue. Otherwise – you probably wouldn’t waste your time doing it. Product Management exists to help increase your chances of achieving this goal (and reducing your chances of failure).


User-centricity is Product Management


If you apply Product Management you are choosing to build your product in a user-centric way. User-centricity is the key point to understand here. Through the Product Management process, you discover a product which is truly valuable and usable for your user as well as being feasible for you to build.

The alternative to Product Management is ‘just deciding’ what you want to build because you believe that you are the best person to decide what the user wants. I’ve been building digital products for over 10 years. I confess, I have ‘just decided’ what to build too many times. I was once involved in a project which had an innovative ‘first in market’ idea (✓) and a significant budget $250k+ (✓). It was only when we finished building the entire thing after 9 months did we realise that no one actually wanted to use it. Had we applied a Product Management process and considered the user, we would have had an entirely different result.


Product Management techniques


So what exactly are these Product Management techniques? Basically, any process by which the user, or a measurement of their behaviour informs or influences your decision making:

  • Validating pain points with users.
  • Validating ideas with users.
  • Rapid business model ideation and validation using tools like the ‘Lean canvas’.
  • Prototyping or Minimum viable product (MVP) driven development (increase spend only as confidence increases).
  • Evidence based/data driven decision making.
  • Feature prioritisation with user input.

What do these things have in common?
They all rely on input from or measurement of the user.
This is Product Management.


The history of Product Management


Product Management is said to have came into the world in 1931. Neil H. McElroy at Procter & Gamble decided to hire a new kind of role. He distributed a memo outlining the need for “Brand Men”. This role had absolute responsibility for a brand. It included tracking sales, input into product development and advertising. He mandated that outcomes should be realised through “field testing and client interaction”.  This user-centric approach gave birth to what we now call ‘Product Management’, and the role that executes these techniques we call a ‘Product Manager’.


The Product Manager role


Now days, the worlds largest software companies hire Product Managers. Facebook, Apple, Twitter. And more locally in Australia, companies like Envato, and employ hoards of Product Managers. A Product Manager is ultimately responsible for the success of the Product and are held directly accountable for this. Product Managers have a broad skill set. In a long list of skills a Product Manager should have, they must be strong in business (Strategy, product marketing etc), user experience and tech. This is why an individual would typically need many years of experience before they would be considered for this role, it’s a tough interview process and typically very well paid ($$$).

A Product Manager doesn’t typically have staff reporting directly to them (why waste time managing people when you’ve got a product to manage!?). However, in a Product Management organisation there may be a Director of Product who may have many Product Managers reporting to them.


Conduct the orchestra!


A Product Manager is akin to a conductor of an Orchestra (this is the best analogy I could come up with). They direct and motivate a group highly skilled individuals to discover and build a product that achieves the desired outcomes. This might include (depending on the company size), research practitioners, user experience designers, engineers, quality control, infrastructure, product marketers, customer service, sales managers, internal subject matter experts and stakeholders. While a Product Manager doesn’t have to have deep skill in each of these areas, they have to understand them and understand how to get the best from these roles.


My experience as a Product Manager


I took on the role of Product Manager in 2015 after a long career as a digital producer/digital business analyst (among many other related roles). In 2014, I took the 10 week Product Management course at General Assembly which was a catalyst to nabbing my first Product Role at Treasury Wine Estates, Melbourne.

I love the broad and challenging nature of the role, and how the user is always front and centre. It’s satisfying when the hard work pays off and your product achieves success in the market. As this success is the true measure of effectiveness in this role. My gosh it’s hard though. Through this role, I’ve learned how to ‘learn on the go’. To scrape together the knowledge I need to get through each day and make informed decisions.  I’ve also had the privilege of working with some highly talented people.

So there you have it. This is my take on what Product Management is. I hope this provides some clarity, though I appreciate it’s not often easy to understand (you might have to read this a few times ;-)). If you’ve got any questions, feel free to ask me in the comments.

Marie xx


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