What Is Product Management? Key definitions and responses

Published March 24, 2021

When I started my career as a Product Manager, I was drawn to the challenge, excitement and glamor surrounding this still evolving job function. However, if someone were to ask me how to define Product Management, I would have fumbled for a coherent answer.

What Is Product Management? Key definitions and responses

About the author

Sumit Pahwa

Sumit Pahwa is one of our professional mentors on MentorCruise and works as Principal Product Manager at Zillow.

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As I worked in different Product roles across numerous companies and product types, I started to get a better sense of what the discipline of Product Management truly entails. However, I was curious how others in the PM community define this still relatively new discipline.

So, over a 2 year period from 2019 through 2020, I ran an informal survey asking the open ended question — What is Product Management?

The participants in this informal survey were fellow PMs I met at conferences, friends, colleagues and my PM mentees.


Survey responses: What is product management?


I categorized the approximately 200 responses I collected over the two years. Below is a chart showing the distribution of responses in the different categories along with a snapshot of responses from each category.



Vague

These are catchy phrases that a lot of us have heard. They sound cool in an elevator pitch, but don’t really help understand Product Management

  • “Mini CEO of a product”
  • “Ownership of all aspects of product lifecycle from inception to sunset.”
  • “Maximizing product success”


Requirements Focused

These are responses that focus on delivering a set of requirements. They address the operational aspect of building something.

  • “Building products based on specific requirements”
  • “Connector between business and developers”


Project Focused

These responses are closely related to the Requirements Focused view of Product Management, with a closer eye on the timeline and coordination of building something.

  • “Orchestration of a project. timeline and execution plan”
  • “Delivering products on time and under budget”


UX Focused

This view of Product Management focuses on the quality of the user experience.

  • “Delivering a delightful experience”
  • “Solving problems in an easy to use way”


Balanced

Finally, the responses in this category were ones that I believe addressed the breadth of product management

  • “The discipline of applying market insights to the product definition, design, implementation and business development process.”
  • “Defining business & customer outcomes, and coordinating a team of experts around the outcome.”


Defining product management

My own version of a balanced response is as follows:

The discipline of delivering valuable solutions to a customer, while building a viable business for an organization.


In order to achieve the above one needs to:

  • Understand the customer
  • Define customer problems
  • Design solutions that could be valuable to the customer
  • Determine business impact of delivering those solutions to the customer
  • Build the solutions
  • Test the solutions
  • Decide whether to deploy and scale the solution
  • Deploy & scale the solution
  • Track performance of the solution
  • Maintain and grow the solution
  • Sunset the solution

That is a really long list with the need for a lot of specialization. It requires expertise in research, design, finance, business development and strategy, analytics, technology, project management and more. The Product Manager’s role entails bringing the right expertise together in order to achieve all of the above. Depending on numerous factors including the size of the company, the maturity of the product, the industry and the PM’s background, a PM might be focused on one or more parts of the spectrum of product management. However, it is critical to always remember what the broader function of Product Management is set up to accomplish.

So, defining Product Management as ‘delivering requirements on time and under budget’ or ‘providing the best user experience for customers’ is not incorrect — it is just incomplete.

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