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How Many Angels Can Dance on Top of a Product Manager Pin?

March 16th, 2009 | 1 Comment | Posted in Product Management

Product Management is one of the themes I like to explore in this blog.  Several of the posts I’ve written deal with topics that are often missing from a typical product manager’s portfolio like Financial Literacy or Customer Tiering Analysis.  I also like to share great pieces by other author’s as well.  Jon Gatrell, who blogs at spatiallyrelevant.org, is an industry-recognized product management expert.  As technology companies grow in size, more specialized roles begin to emerge.  At some point someone asks the question what is the difference between a product manager, a product marketer, a project manager, and a program manager?  Jon’s recent post The 4 PM Confusion in Technology Companies does a great job exploring this age old question.  Below are a few excerpts:

Project Manager: The Gantt Will Set You Free

Ever since Henry Gantt pioneered the controls, constructs and made a pretty chart with critical path diamonds, Project Managers (PM) have objectively been presenting slip risk, providing two sentence summaries and yellow/red/green bubbles to management teams everywhere.  Have MS Project can travel!  The reporting and task management realities of development, launches and organizational readiness require an attention to detail, lack of emotional investment and organizational balance which typically isn’t a core value for a Product Manager (PM).

Product Management: Nebulous Interactions and Priority Juggling

While there is no patron saint of Product Management (PM) like Gantt for Project Managers, we do however have Dilbert and I’m OK with that.  I’m sure there is some developer somewhere is going to say Dilbert is theirs, but that just part of the life as a Product Manager.

Product Management is different in each organization, with different title lengths and varying levels of P&L influence/accountability.  Some are business owners and others manage requirements – some do all, while the common theme exist “You have to keep things going right way and manage priorities”.  PM’s are responsible for optimizing the cross functional interfaces, customer value and competitiveness of their product in the marketplace and that creates a bunch of Dilbert moments.  PM’s just dance around the organization and try to make things work.  In the more technical organizations these folks are constantly managing the delivery of IP to Product.

Program Manager: Strategic Managers of Stuff

Program Managers have the DNA of both the previously evaluated PM’s, not so much Product Marketing folk tho. These are link Project Management Ninja or pattern a matching Product Manager of strategic things.    Essentially a corporate tattletale of cross project collisions and the celebratory target for things that randomly align.   This is a great gig for project managers and product managers alike – especially if you get organizational resource influence.  Actually it could quite possibly be a really good gig with the right company: organization switching, cross product reporting and interfacing with strategic clients/executives.  There is significant risk of incremental sport coat requirements in this role.

Product Marketing: Go to Market Magic

Product Managers (PM), not unlike program managers, are responsible for the random alignment of product goals and revenue optimization.  The right story, the right capabilities and the marketing mix are essentially the domain of Product Marketing folk.  Moderately good excel and PowerPoint skills are essential.  These folks are the organizational sanity check on a given product or set of products.   Sales enablement, product level brand connection and consumable stories which drives revenue and reduces cost.  For most organization’s being a PM is like being a Product Manager minus product delivery.

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