PM Guest Article August 2020

Product Management Demystified

and how a Project Manager can start to transition to Product roles

Promeet Masanta

As an avid technical and business enthusiast, Promeet has worked with world-class organizations and teams to build and maintain delightful consumer products and experiences.

If you are reading this you either found the title catchy, or you were already thinking about a career in product or you aren’t sure what Product Managers do.

I’ll address the question of what PMs do but let’s start with the basic difference between Product Managers (PMs) and Project Managers (PjMs).

The product manager sets the vision for the product, does research, be it qualitative, quantitative, competitor, marketplace, macroeconomic or microeconomic signals and decides what to build. PMs require a LOT of help from all other teams. The PjM is the key person to help the PM act upon all the work, resourcing, follow up, keeping things on track, and budget. In several organizations PMs do the PjM work as well either out of necessity or the lack of a dedicated PjM.

Now let’s break down the roles of what a PM does from the lens of deliverables.

I’m going to take ‘The Top 10 Deliverables of Product Managers’ book as reference and take deliverable list from it to expand on the gap that PjMs need to fill to be an effective PM. In larger organizations PM roles generally focus on execution but in smaller organizations a PM will straddle from vision and strategy to design and execution.

The following table addresses all these areas, levels at which these are performed (and this is not always the case in every company)

Area Level How to address this gap?
Vision Narrative Exec/VP/Dir of Product Follow popular product execs Read vision statements Dig deeper into the actual products (use them!) Do they drive the company toward the mission or away from it? Even if a PM is not responsible for setting this vision, a PM should ensure that the product pushes the company in the right direction
Product Walkthrough Exec/VP/Dir of Product/SPMs A (vision) product walkthrough is pretty much the same as a vision narrative except you have imagined the future.
Product/Market fit hypotheses Exec/VP/Dir of Product/SPMs A good way to learn this is a company teardown and ask why at each stage
Customer discovery insights Exec/VP/Dir of Product/SPMs This is exactly like it sounds; understanding what your customer is trying to accomplish and their pain points. Best ways to learn: 1) Look at prior research 2) Participate in research
Product Roadmap SPMs or PMs This part of the job feels the most natural to a PjM. PjMs are familiar with Gantt Charts. The difficult part is deciding on trade-offs and prioritization which is key for a good PM. Start using frameworks such as RICE to understand prioritization.
Product Requirements SPMs or PMs A PRD is the set of requirements for a product (or feature). The best way to learn this is to look at existing PRD’s.
Metrics/Dash SPMs or PMs So, you’ve built the product but how is it doing? Your metrics answer that question. What to track should already be in the PRD. The best way to learn the “what” is to understand what success means for the company. This sounds easy but can be complicated by a variety of factors such as if your product has two key metrics and an AB test shows that one went up or down. Look at internal dashboards to understand what is being tracked and ask your PMs all the whys.
Team OKRs SPMs or PMs Large companies use Objectives & Key Results for all teams so this one should be familiar if your company uses them
Decision Rationales SPMs or PMs There are two key things here, the decision and the communication; PjMs usually have the communication piece nailed down. Decisions are a completely different thing. Each product goes through thousands of decisions and trade-offs and the best way to learn is to participate in design, product, and engineering reviews. Jira tickets are also a rich source of information
Product Wins SPMs or PMs There really is pretty much no other job that is as much a team sport as Product is. A product manager can literally do nothing without other teams but I also truly believe that a good product cannot be built without a good PM not unlike what a music conductor does

So, there you have it, all the necessary pieces to transition to product. At the very least even if you don’t want to transition the key takeaway is that PMs are conductors. You now probably have a sense that Product is a craft and the best way to learn it, like most anything else – do it.

If you do decide to transition, having done a transition into product, I can tell you first hand that the concepts are indeed very important but not enough. Consider building a product or app in your spare time or take on PM responsibilities at your existing company. Alternatively, shadow a PM that you respect and see if that person will serve as a mentor to help you transition. Good luck!