A Deep Dive Into Product Manager Roles and Responsibilities

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@ayushjainAyush Jain

Product Manager at RummyCircle

Product Manager as a function or practice is fairly old now. It has been around since 1931 (well at least in theory). It originated from a memo written by Neil McElroy, an Advertising Manager at Proctor and Gamble. He wrote this memo to the Executive Team of P&G suggesting the need of a “brand man”, a person solely responsible for the product and not the business.

Since the roots of Product Management have been into brand management hence it has not been a part of the Engineering function. But I am sure we all would agree that now a days Product Management has become a vital practice in every Product Organization.
Yet, I come across quite many folks who do not understand the differences between a Product Manager, Project Manager and Product Marketing Manager. To understand this, it is vital to have some background in how exactly does a product come to life. Let’s dive in.
The entire Product Lifecycle framework can be broadly categorized into two phases.
  1. New Product Development Commercialization and
  2. Manufacturing/Operations

New Product Development

This phase can be defined as the complete process of bringing out a new product or service to market.
Whatever an organization needs to do to identify what to build and then building it and bringing it to market is covered here. We can broadly categorize this phase in the following stages. At each stage a crucial decision to move ahead or to iterate (pivot) or to stop, is taken. Please note that each stage takes up a lot of time and effort and there are tonnes of activities that are carried out but for the sake of simplicity we are only touching upon these at a high level.
Also, I am not listing the roles and responsibilities of each of the roles simply but would introduce each of our managers as and when they do come into the picture in the entire Product Lifecycle.
The journey begins with the Product Manager. Product Manager is responsible for taking the ownership of all the following stages.
1. Ideation: Through market research, customer research, looking into industry trends, competition’s products, looking into convergence of the new upcoming technologies, ideas for the new products are generated and documented. All the product ideas are then sorted, brainstormed and some of them are finally shortlisted for the next stage.
2. Concept Development and Testing: Shortlisted product ideas are used to create the proof of concept with minimal development and time effort. The objective here is get something out as soon as possible. The created concept is then validated with simulated market conditions and some potential customers. Based on the feedack received the concept is further iterated, improved, pivoted. Then we move on to the next stage.
3. Product Plan Preparation: In this stage the Product Manager needs to wear the business hat and create a compelling Business Case for the product that should win the funding from the Executives. All the Product Lines definitions, Product Roadmap, product’s high-level definitions happen at this stage (NOT the detailed specs). This is also the stage in which the Product Marketing Manager comes into the picture. The Product Vision Board / Business Case is created which should at least consist of the following.Customer ProblemProposed SolutionMarketing Strategy (Owned by Product Marketing Manager)Competitive AnalysisSales ForecastsCost and Schedule EstimatesRevenue Plan / Monetization Plan
4. Marketing Mix Development: We move to this stage once the Product has been approved by the Senior Management. Marketing Mix consists of the 4 Ps i.e. Product, Pricing, Promotions and Place. So, in this stage all the detailed Product Specifications i.e. the PRD is created and owned by the Product Manager. He/she also starts to create the Product Backlog, detailed Epics and User Stories. Product Marketing Manager works on creating the Marketing and Promotions Strategy for the Product. He decides on the Pricing for the product and its different variants or versions. He also starts creating the Go To Market Strategy for the product. He works on all the Communications, Marketing Collaterals needed, Conferences and Events to be targeted etc.
5. Actual Development: This is the stage where the Project Manager comes into picture. He is responsible for ensuring that the Product Backlog is properly groomed, owns the Daily Scrum, Sprint Planning meetings, ensures that developers all understand the Stories and are clear on what needs to be built. He coordinates among Design, Engineering and Product teams to ensure that there are no gaps and that the team is able to deliver the expected results sprint after sprint.
In this stage certain crucial decisions are taken by the Product Manager such as building the certain components needed in the product or to buy / procure them from the third party vendors. Decide on the features and capabilities of the team versus the cost impact. Constantly monitor the changing market requirements and alter the backlog accordingly (if need be).
It is Product Manager’s responsibility to ensure that we are only delivering the MVP initially. As Reid Hoffman (Co-founder of LinkedIn) puts it, “If you are not embarrassed by the first version of your product, you’ve launched too late”.
6. Product Testing: In this stage the product is internally tested (alpha testing), bugs are fixed and then tested externally in a controlled environment (beta testing). Feedback is gathered, analyzed, filtered and incorporated in the further versions. Project Manager owns the bug fixing and actual testing. Product Manager owns the analysis of feedback and deciding on what to and what not to iterate in the product.

Commercialization

The following stages of the Product Lifecycle actually fall under the Commercialization phase. This phase is primarily owned by the Product Marketing Manager as you would see in the details of each of the stage below.
7. Market Testing: This stage is primarily owned by the Product Marketing Manager. The MVP and its Marketing Strategy is tested either in Simulated Market Conditions or in a certain small Actual Market (depends on the company’s budget and size). For instance, companies sometimes launch their product in a certain small geography, iterate based on the feedback before launching it worldwide.
8. Commercialization: If you have made it so far, congratulations your product is now ready to rule the market. A full blown launch happens in this stage, needless to mention primarily owned by the Product Marketing Manager. Testimonials are collected from the customers to be put in the Marketing Collaterals, Email and Content Marketing etc. The product is then launched and promoted at various Industry Conferences, Events.
After this, there are four phases of the Product LifeCycle through which each of the product has to go through. At launch, of course the Product is at Introduction phase, following are the other phases.
  1. Introduction
  2. Growth
  3. Maturity
  4. Decline
  5. Withdrawal

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