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Product managers are not responsible for "how"

Product managers are responsible for two aspects of their product:

  • The product itself: what should we build, why, and when? This involves working with sales (deal win/loss reasons), support (patterns in support requests), engineering (product development, testing and release) and operations (supporting the infrastructure behind the product).
  • The go-to-market approach: what should we do to raise awareness and generate new revenue? This involves working with sales (training on new releases, working on sales collateral, being on calls with prospects) and marketing (influencing product marketing campaigns, attending conferences, creating content).

There are nuances within these categories e.g. if the release is about improving a difficult area of the product interface, the go-to-market approach may involve only existing customers and churn reduction rather than new revenue. Or a release may focus on reducing specific alerts and incidents for the on-call team, rather than direct customer functionality. But much of the day-to-day of a product manager will revolve around these two aspects.

Amongst all the things that the product manager is responsible for coordinating it is important to note the key aspect they are not deciding: how.

Whether you agree or disagree that the product manager is like the CEO of the product, once you get past the early product prototypes and have the scope to hire dedicated product managers, their job does not involve deciding how things should be done.

At the point when your team is big enough to include product management, it will also include specialists in engineering, operations, sales and marketing. They will have taken over from the generalist founders and should be much better than the original team who hired them. That’s why you hired them in the first place!

The same applies to product managers. Their job is to get into the details of what should be done and when, coordinating all the resources and people to hit product goals (revenue, launch, NPS, churn, etc). Their job is to define the outcome everyone is aiming for, not to determine how it should be done.

Designers decide how to build the best user experience.

Engineering decides how to implement a feature.

Operations decides how code should be deployed.

Marketing decides how to spend their budget.

Sales decides how to engage potential customers.

Support decides how to deal with inbound customer requests.

The “how” of product is deciding how the product delivers on the business goals through the teams that the product manager then has to coordinate. This involves “what”, “why” and “when”. It includes providing ideas and input into helping the other teams figure out their “how”, but that decision rests with the team actually doing the work.