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Being a Product Manager in an Agency

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But what do product managers even do?

To put it simply, we act as the ambassadors for the product, representing the goals of the end user, the business, and the product team. We work to find a way to meet all of these goals, and if they can’t be met, we prioritize the goals that will make the biggest impact and are the most crucial to success. We start at the beginning, helping to identify the problem to be solved, and the audiences who can be helped by solving it. Then, we work with the business to assess effort, prioritize features, and set KPIs-all while we brainstorm the many forms our solution may take.

Ok, well, how does that work in an agency environment? What do you do at Launch?

Though we are aren’t in every design meeting or working on developing code, product managers do keep track of the product, making sure it’s measuring up to its goals and still working toward solving that initial problem. And we work to ensure teams, clients, and customers are all represented in the evolving solution. In agencies, you don’t always get to define the problem you’re solving or choose a promising audience to target-these things are typically client decisions. You can, however, validate those problems and talk to those markets to make sure you’re being the best partner to your clients.

Where do you fit into the process? Who do you work with?

Product managers fit quite nicely between project management, UX, and strategy. We work with project managers to assess effort, build out scopes, and organize sprints. Then the project managers take over operations while product managers become the product caretaker. UX, strategy, and product collaborate well in the research and ideation arena, after the big research lift is over, UX and strategy can move on to wires, content strategy, or another deliverable. Meanwhile, product sees to it that the design teams adhere to the research (in some cases, a product manager might even churn out high-level wireframes, but I prefer to leave that to the pros). Our role is much heavier in the discovery phases of a project. Once we’ve put a roadmap in place we become less involved, but don’t disappear completely, participating in reviews and user testing during the buildout. Am I being nosy or doing my job? No one will ever know.

Got it, so how does product management help the rest of the team?

Think of us like a big human bookmark-making sure everyone is on the same page (eh? eh?). That boils down to:

  • Alignment between internal teams and departments
  • Stick up for their team, for the client, and for the clients’ customers
  • Holding the project and client teams accountable to initial requirements
  • Changing requirements as goals, audiences, and markets shift
  • Follow through
  • Ideate for future releases-aka sourcing scope extensions and follow-up projects (insert dancing lady emoji here)

What does this mean?

It used to be that you’d only see product managers at organizations that were pure “product” companies. But any agency can benefit from adding a PM. Just remember that any deliverable can be a product and should be treated with the same level of care that a full-blown, investor-funded product would receive. Agencies are fast-paced, multitasking, ever-changing workplace environments. Introducing a product practice provides new levels of accountability, adds a sense of permanence to projects, and allows you to focus on seeing work all the way through.

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