Product Management: Breaking It All Down

Let’s boil down the different titles within product management first. I’m sure by this point you’ve heard a couple or all of the below: Technical Product Manager, Project Manager, Program Manager, Product Manager. I get why it is confusing. They all tend to have the same acronym – the last 3 could all be called “PM” if we wanted them to. But here’s the way I look at it:

Product Manager (PM). 

This is the classical role “CEO” of the Product. Being “CEO” does not mean you run the product with an iron fist. It means you are the final decision maker on product decisions while taking in feedback quantitatively and qualitatively from consumers, stakeholders, and partners. This role is broken up into two:

  • Product Strategy & Requirements. Here the PM can either own only product strategy and requirements and the execution piece is handled by technical product management.
  • “Full Stack” Product Manager. You are working end-to-end through product strategy to implementation/execution with your engineering team.

Technical Product Manager (TPM). 

In some companies, they split the role of product manager with the technical product manager, where the product manager handles strategy/requirements based on user needs and the TPM handles the rest. The TPM will likely be working with the engineering team more closely through implementation details and any changes required because of technical dependencies.

Project Manager (PJM). 

You are responsible for making sure the scrum board / sprints execute effectively, and catch dependencies or blocked issues early with the team. You will typically work across multiple teams to manage multiple projects at once. Typically, you are not making product-level decisions.

Program Manager (PGM). 

For a program manager, this is a role where you will work with the Project Manager and the Product Manager to build reports for upper management for specific programs or teams that will help elevate progress and updates across the company.


The Reality?

The truth is, the above are just descriptions of the roles and responsibilities that each should encompass.

In your real job, your job may entail one or more of the roles and responsibilities above. The title you may have may differ from this, as companies may decide product development processes and structure will be run differently.

I am at a <50 person Series A startup (Brilliant Smart Home), and I cover all of the above roles, as do the other Product Managers on my team.

It’s important not to get hung up on the title your company may give you and rather focus on the role you are actually performing every day in your job.

For the remainder of the article, I will focus on the expectations I believe are required for a successful Product Manager, specifically a “full stack” product manager.


Product Management Expectations

We can all assume the following:

  1. Representing the needs of the consumer.
  2. Unbiased (as much as possible) decision making on product and business based on the company based on the information provided.
  3. Encompassing multiple methods of feedback and data and synthesizing to product features and business needs.
  4. Pushing and evangelizing structured thinking across the organization to make better decisions.

But how do we actually accomplish this?


Our Tools

Strategic and Structured Thinking.

We fail when we let emotion get the best of us. Elevate discussion through structuring reasoning and thoughts in a decision tree format. In other words, help the team understanding relationships between certain decisions, and then drive to a final decision.

Always build towards a validated perspective. 

Build consensus within the team as you use strategic and structured thinking. As you get more data (qualitative or quantitative), your role is to synthesize this information into a qualified perspective to drive product decisions with your team.

Guide the ship.

You are responsible for driving decisions for your product and team. This means you are effectively guiding the ship – you need to make sure it doesn’t hit an iceberg. However, you need to do this as a leader, not with an iron fist. With this, it’s critical to earn trust and respect from your team before you can emerge in this role.

Collaboration through transparency.

Empower your team with the same data you are seeing with your perspective attached. If you have a validated perspective, there shouldn’t be anything to be worried about. If you can’t defend it to your team, you can’t defend it to your users.

Identify and Empower Change Champions in your team.

Sometimes you may feel that for your team to succeed effectively, there may need to be a culture shift needed. Perhaps the energy or passion has disappeared in the team. It’s important to identify the leaders within your team from other teams that can help you change and move it towards a positive direction.

What is your Magic Power?

Every PM should have a core skill that they use to their advantage when needed. For example, mine is now a mixture of product design as well as product analytics. Use this to push forward projects and requirements in times that you may feel blocked.


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About the speaker
Gaurav Hardikar Brilliant, Director of Product Management and UX Member

Gaurav is a Product Leader with more than 5 years of experience across all aspects of Product Management, Design, and Strategy. He is passionate about companies with a mission to better people’s lives in a tangible way, and is a large proponent of product management through collaboration and emotional intelligence.

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