The Role of a Product Manager

I was reading Ben Horowitz’s book last week, and a section on integrating new team members and setting expectations jumped out to me. Particularly expectations. Product management is an ambiguous role by nature. Most of the performance gaps I have seen over the years are directly attributable to a failure on the manager’s (my) part to set clear expectations. Same for getting high performers to seize growth opportunities–I know my own professional growth has been limited more often by my failure to recognize something additional I could be doing than it has been by a lack of capabilities to go do it.

We’re in the middle of our semi-annual performance review cycle here at Google, and I think we could do better at communicating expectations to PMs. So I wrote up this summary of the role of a product manager for my team. It seeks to establish a shared set of expectations and language that we can refer back to over time. It’s what I look for in recruiting, how I gauge performance, and what I measure myself against to see where I can do better. It tells you what you need to get done, but it’s not prescriptive about how you do it. It’s also level-agnostic; as you progress, you just do more of these things, better, over bigger scope.


Vision & Strategy

You own the vision, strategy, and roadmap. You know the market, our users, the product, and the competition. You create innovative product plans that address real user needs. You make the right judgments, repeatedly. You tell the story of what we’re building, how we’ll get there, why it will be awesome, and why we’ll win. You drive alignment: with the development team, within the team, across teams, cross-functionally, with your manager, with your reports if you’re a manager. If I ask 5 different people what you’re building and why, I’ll get one answer.

Execution & Impact

You drive execution and remove roadblocks. You know where we are and where we’ll be in 6 months, and when to change those plans. You know what needs to be done now and what can wait, and you focus the team on the key priorities. You make them happen faster and better. You ensure the product is world-class. You are constantly product testing in real-world conditions. You define progress and impact, measure them, and maximize results. You convince other people to do what you need them to do for the good of the product. You drive things to closure.

Communication & Visibility

You are the face of the product in the organization. People bring you questions, advice, and ideas. You represent and champion the team. You ensure that everyone — your manager, execs, ops, teams down the hallway — knows who you are, what your team is doing, and what impact your team is having. You build relationships that help the team get things done. You ensure the product’s story is told, and understood, internally and externally. You create collateral, FAQs, docs, and presentations that can be leveraged by marketing, PR, sales/BD, executives, etc.

Honesty & Culture

You are open, honest, and fair. You build trust, credibility, and respect with the team. You act with integrity. You do not politick or backstab. You create a strong team with high morale and build camaraderie. People like working with you. You make others around you better.

Ownership

Your success is the success of the product. You’re accountable for devising and executing a winning plan — no excuses. I can give you a problem statement, but you’re the one who determines what your job is. You don’t get driven around by the team; you figure out what the team needs, and you deliver that. If there are gaps in vision, strategy, execution, impact, communication, visibility, team culture, team capabilities, or anything else, you own them.


Show your support

Clapping shows how much you appreciated Michael Siliski’s story.