At the Product Management Festival 2014, the expert panel consisting of Rich Mironov, Jeff Lash, Michael Eckhard, and Teresa Torres shortly discussed the best title and definition for a product manager. Teresa was quick to state that it is not the name that’s important but what product managers do. In my opinion, a product manager needs a certain mindset to be successful.
Again, it’s about words and their definition. If you have read my previous blog post „The slaves in a Scrum team“, then you know how important words and their meanings are for me. You might also understand why being a manager isn’t actually that great.
A product manager has to do many tasks and has to have certain qualities. Obviously, (s)he has to manage a product. There is a lot more: (s)he needs to have empathy while talking to the customer, sell the idea to senior management, market the idea internally, and market the product to the first customers. The product manager also is the owner of the product and the risks of the project delivering the product. As Ken Norton later said „a product manager has to take the blame and disperse the credit“.
When defining a role or a job title, we try to put every meaning into it that reflects the role as a whole. So what about „managing, empathetic product-owning marketeer“? Well, maybe that’s a little too much, isn’t it?
As Teresa Torres pointed out, product management is change management. For transformational change to happen, it is absolutely vital for the product manager to have full support in the organization from top to bottom. In change management, the role actually making it all happen is the change agent.
So what about „Product Agent“?
A change agent leads others that haven’t even acknowledged the risks, yet. Therefore, an agent is in the pure meaning of the word a true leader.
Leadership is vital but seldom seen in today’s organizations. As the product manager needs to fill in the blanks and gaps, (s)he has to be the person leading everyone involved in making the product happen.
Others have said that the product manager is the „MiniCEO“ of the product. Unfortunately, there are not many CEOs that are great leaders. Ken Norton answered that „the product manager is not the CEO of the product, he is a conductor of an orchestra. If the conductor doesn’t show up, the orchestra can still play.“ (Update: Ken added that the orchestra can play for a while before it gets out of tune.)
Like I wrote in my previous blog post, a leader is per definition a conductor. I only partly agree with Ken that an orchestra can still perform when the conductor doesn’t show up. To perform well, the musicians in an orchestra need a leader.
A good leader will ensure that there are other leaders that will step up in case of need. A well-defined orchestra will choose new leaders because the previous leader has already ensured for the circumstance of not showing up.
Therefore, we need more product managers who feel like the „Product Leader“.