This post is the first of a five part series on product management. In this post I describe the structure and typical roles within product management. Then I’ll describe the great divide that exists between the roles, and discuss a solution to bridge it. 🌉 Thanks for reading!

Structure of product management

Product Management seems to be the least defined and standardized discipline out of the corporate functions — sales, support, HR, finance, engineering, even demand generation tends to have much more standardized structure and best practices.

The goal of Product Management is to deliver a viable product that customers will use and love.

Almost every company has a role of a product manager, yet what the role entails can differ significantly.

Cocktails of responsibility

Within product management, we can find different “cocktails” of product strategy, product development and product marketing. Let’s do a quick recap of each of these buckets.

Product Strategy — This is the strategic bucket. Go-to-market, pricing, competitive positioning, market research and market sizing all belong here. Here you can find techniques and frameworks that are part of marketing and taught in business schools. This is the world of 4C, 3C, 4P, and the BCG matrix. The end of results of product strategy have historically been summarized and communicated in the form of marketing requirements documents (MRD) and a bunch of slide decks and spreadsheets.

Product Development — The next step is to translate the strategic marketing decisions into specific product requirements, incorporate additional user research, feature requests and user feedback, manage the design and implementation, and communicate progress to stakeholders. The product requirements document (PRD) is the key deliverable in the traditional waterfall methodology – user stories are an example from the agile world. And let’s not forget everyone’s favorite product development deliverable — product roadmaps!

Product Marketing /Outbound marketing — Product messaging, sales enablement, and lots of content for both external and internal communication… all these originate from the product marketing function. Product marketing educates the market on the value of what product development and R&D builds.

Who does what

It causes no small amount of confusion that professionals who specialize in each of the three areas above may be called product managers. In some companies, PMs might focus only on product development and a product marketing manager might be responsible for product marketing and strategy. Other companies have dedicated product strategy experts, and thus create a product management triad as suggested by the Pragmatic Marketing group.

We can see that what is loosely understood as product management actually spans from strategy through design & development, to marketing and even sales. As a result, it would be fair to say…

A great product manager has a mix of product strategy, development and marketing skills.

The inevitability of specialization

While PMs might benefit from competence in each area of the triad, given how intricate each area can be, it’s difficult to find one person who has really honed all the skills, experience, and capacity to excel in them all. Some specialization becomes inevitable. This is especially true in larger teams with more complex products.

Personally, whenever I interview PM candidates, I evaluate their skills along these three dimensions (strategy, development, marketing), recognizing that people have different strengths. When you build your product management team, make sure that your PMs complement each other well.

Still, given the inevitability of specialization, there’s now the issue of ensuring those specializing in strategy, development, and marketing are collaborating to the fullest. In my next post I’ll discuss how to build bridges between each of the three areas.

What do you think? How is product management defined at your own company? We’d love to hear from you.

–Hubert