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What Product Managers are NOT and What They Really Do

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay
Meme about product managers

Project Managers Are Not Product Managers

While this can sometimes be excused as a slip of the tongue, this is the most common misconception, especially thanks to the shared PM abbreviation. And yes, to an outsider there are other similarities. Both require a science-based approach, with thoughts towards careful evidence-based planning. But a Product Manager has its feet planted firmly in the digital age, and requires a more fluid, contemporary experience. The doctrines of Project Management work across sectors, and have remained relatively unchanged at their core over the last few years. However, Product Management is constantly shifting, with new thought processes and methodologies being added every month.

Image by Karolina Grabowska from Pixabay

Is a Product Manager the CEO of a Product?

What people really mean when they call PMs CEOs, is that they have a handle on all aspects of a product and liaise with practically every single person deeply involved in its progression. According to traditional hierarchical structures, this would place them above everyone in an overseers position, so we can see how the comparison to CEO can be drawn.

Tech Enthusiasts, but Not Experts

Another myth around Product Management is that a PM must know the product inside and out, down to every line of code. This misconception is common in the outside world, with friends and family looking at our jobs and imagining PMs to be app-building Wizkids. They look at us and see Steve Jobs (OK maybe they don’t but it’s a nice ego-boost to imagine so). And even within our companies, anyone involved in a digital product is assumed to be a technological genius.

Is a Product Manager a Marketer?

Similar to not being experts in tech, PMs are also not as heavily involved in marketing as many think. While the two disciplines are heavily focused on the customer, marketing requires its own skill set and its own guidelines. Knowing the customer is an absolutely vital part or being a PM, but it doesn’t mean you know how to create the perfect Facebook ad segment.

Who are the Final Decision Makers?

There is of course a lot of decision making involved in a product lifecycle. The same people who call PMs the CEO of a product are probably the same people who think the PM calls all the shots. In reality, Product Management is about coordinating different teams and making sure that their decisions align with each other. A PM is a facilitator of effective decision making, not an overlord. Giving a PM such power also seems to remove the question of stakeholders. It’s the PMs job to manage stakeholders, something I have spoken about at length.

So…What is a Product Manager?

Product Managers wear many hats, and it can be difficult to succinctly explain what the job involves to outsiders. How can we condense it down into an elevator pitch when it involves so much? What makes this task even harder, is that each product requires a slightly different PM, depending on factors like industry, B2B vs B2C, digital vs traditional, software vs hardware…the list is endless.



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