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Godson Njoku
Godson Njoku

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Who is a Product Manager

Disappearing into the distance

Highway in the nighttime. Photo credits - The Frank Effect

I began my journey into the world of product management over the last couple of months and it been a fun learning process. So I decided to do this article as an explainer to try to help answer the question "Who is a product manager?" or "What is product management?" in a simple manner for folks who may be curious or fascinated about the path and want to learn more about it.

Key Takeaways

  • Define what a product is
  • Explain who a Product Manager is

Introduction

Product Management is one of the seldomly talked about careers in the industry, but it's gradually getting its time in the sunlight with a lot of organizations opening up roles for Product Managers to help make their products more awesome.

Individuals are also starting to share their ideas and thought process on what it is all about. It is an ever-changing landscape just like business, design, engineering and other career paths.

So let's begin with defining the very basic building blocks of this career discipline - Product.

What is a Product?

There is a whole lot of definitions out on the internet and in your trusty dictionary about what a product is, but I for one like to define a Product as an experience you deliver to a user/customer to bring value to them, for a price.

These experiences could either be a product or a service, physical or non-physical.

Who is a Product Manager?

Just like the definition of a product, there is also a whole lot of definitions about the concept of what the role of a product manager is, and who they are.

This article will skip the heavy lifting for a Google search, and just do a basic definition to serve as a primer, then go on to use an analogy to paint a better picture for you to see.

Moving along the lines of the definition shared above of what a product is, a Product Manager is a custodian of the product (experience) vision. They decide what experience an organization should build when to build, and also whom to build for.

They achieve this by working in cross-functional teams to ensure that these experiences are delivered to the right audience properly.

They are popularly referred to as the CEO of the Product by most people in the industry and I think it is right because a great deal of their leadership is by influence, rather than authority, contrary to logic or traditional hierarchy in organizations and this is a major thing that actually helps them get their job done better.

So here comes the analogy to help with storytelling in this article. A product manager can be likened to those operators in the military referred to as 'Forward Observers'. They are those highly skilled commando figures who go into combat carrying a radio strapped to their backs and radio in commands and artillery support of all kinds, depending on the mission. They help ensure that the mission is successful.

I will be making a direct comparison on how these folks are similar (relatively of course) to Product Managers and I will also refer to a Forward Observer as 'FOs' and Product Manager as 'PM' as we go forward in the article.

A military operator


A military operator. Source- HD Game wallpapers

FOs can be likened to PMs because they are a critical piece of personnel in today's world of military defence as opposed to when they first became available in WW1 where generals didn't see the need for them. But as modern warfare evolved, the need for them gradually became so obvious. This is quite similar for PMs as the history of Product Management shows that it wasn't originally a traditional role which you could ideally obtain as a university discipline. It was rather created out of necessity by folks in the marketing sphere to help drive their AD campaigns better.

In 1931, Neil McElroy wrote a memo to Proctor & Gamble. The young advertising executive proposed the idea of a "brand man" — a role with specific responsibilities to manage the complete product brand and be accountable for its success.

So you can see just how important this has become to big businesses who want to manage resources efficiently, sell to a wider range of audience and also don't want their products to fail.

A military breach

A coordinated military breach. Source- HD Game wallpapers

The same thing arose for military chiefs who wanted better sync between platoon leadership and the platoon sergeant, as well as better artillery support, which is very important as those armaments didn't come cheap and were limited. Everything had to be done with pin-point accuracy, as often as possible.

This meant that this individual was highly skilled to be able to hold their own down in combat, make quick decisions, coordinate with platoon leadership and the platoon sergeant, and still play a very functional role in the team apart from the medic.

So what does that tell you about the PMs? It means that they are able to understand the underlying details and goals of a product from the leadership/management (the CEO and the board), narrow it down and work with cross-functional teams - engineering, design, marketing, legal etc, while making sure there is information sync. They also decide what amount and kind of resources will be funnelled towards a particular product and if need be, whether to discontinue a product also.

The Intersection

The Intersection. Source  - Atlassian

A lot of resources out there put a Product Manager as someone who lies at the intersection of management, engineering and design. But on the fine print, it's a whole lot more. The fundamentals remain quite the same; to ship the right experience at the right time and to the right people with just about the right team of people.

Sources:

Who is a Product Manager - #Thread by Nnamdi Azodo @simplyazodo-

Introduction to Product Management

How Forward Observers Operate in the Military to Coordinate Artillery

Discussion (1)

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vicradon profile image
Osinachi Chukwujama

I like the military analogy