Ask A Good Product Manager

Your product management questions answered

How much project management should a product manager do?

Posted on July 20, 2008 · 3 Comments

Question: How much should a product manager get involved with project management?

How much of a product managers time is spent on project management? How hands on is the product manager during a project phase?

I’m in a situation where I’ve been given more responsibilities without having my previous responsibilities reduced. I would like to know what tasks I should keep, what task I should delegate.

Answer from Derek Morrison of All About Product Management: Tasks that a Product Management performs will vary from company to company and industry to industry. Even within the same organisation the job of the product manager can vary depending on the product portfolio and the type of stakeholders you have to deal with. Bottom line is that there is no straightforward answer to the questions you asked. However there are a number of questions you should ask yourself in order to know what is right for you and your career:

  1. Are the additional responsibilities you’ve been given temporary or permanent?
  2. If permanent, will they enhance or detract from your product management tasks?
  3. If temporary, how long will the additional tasks be your responsibility?
  4. Does your organisation use project mangers, and if they do, why are they not using them on your project/products?
  5. What’s the financial health of your company – is it becoming necessary to double up on roles due to lack of funding and sponsorship?

Many companies (consciously or subconsciously) combine the job of product manager with other roles such as: technical support, technical sales, business analyst or systems analyst, and — yes you’ve guessed it — project management. Doing so means that the product does not always get the focus it deserves – which results in a less competitive product being launched into the market.

Ultimately you need to be careful that the additional tasks do not detract from your key responsibilities: that of discovering and defining new products and enhancements to your current products and solving customer problems in an innovative way. Wherever possible you should delegate, to the appropriate people, any task that prevents you from focusing on the strategic inbound tasks.

Amy C. Edmondson writes in July’s edition of HBR that “A focus on getting things done, and done right, crowds out the experimentation and reflection vital to sustainable success. “ Bottom line is there may not be a straightforward answer but be careful that you don’t become the critical link in project managing the current product design that you don’t have time to think about the next one.

3 other answers so far ↓

  • Steve Johnson // Jul 20, 2008 at 7:12 pm

    In many companies, product management is everything that the people in other departments don’t want to do. And project management seems to be an item that no one wants to do!

    Ask Derek points out, product management is different in different companies. That’s why we created the Pragmatic Marketing framework at http://www.pragmaticmarketing.com/pragmatic-marketing-framework

    Discuss these activities with your team and with your boss. Decide which are most important for your products right now.

    Now what else should you add to your list?

  • Jeff Lash // Jul 20, 2008 at 7:33 pm

    The reason that you’re being asked to take on more project management duties could be just because the people within your company do not have a good understanding of the difference between the two. (The fact fact that the names sound so familiar — proDUCT, proJECT — doesn’t help. Some companies have tried to create different titles, to ease this confusion, though I’ve never seen it work successfully.)

    I wrote a comparison of Product Management vs. Project Management that may be a useful read for you or for others within your organizations. There’s some good comments and discussion, too, which cover some points that were not in the original post.

    Jeff Lash
    Blog: How To Be a Good Product Manager

  • Derek Britton // Jul 21, 2008 at 4:27 am

    Great inputs so far and what a fantastic question because it affects every PM at some point in their career.

    My view on this is twofold, two sides of the coin if you will:

    If you see the role of PM as the custodian of the product roadmap and its delivery into the market, then by implication you must care about what goes out when, because you asked for it, and you have a reason, and therefore you have a vested interest in the task being completed. To not know status, risks, issues against plan in terms of product roadmap (and therefore, project schedules etc.) is therefore I think unacceptable.
    HOWEVER, to think that just because you care about the end-date, the delivery, the customers, the quality and the supporting launch process, means you are the only person capable of steering the project ship, is folly. There are doubtless others who can or at least should be managing the process of delivery on your behalf, probably in a PMO or Dev Proj Mgr role, or perhaps even a business unit Service Delivery role. Eihter way, you have to work through them where possible and only directly intervene when the market input or specific functional skill is required.

    I find the use of agile sometimes put the roles in to sharp focus because you WILL be called upon as product owner to give an input regularly, but the rest of the time your contribution is not actually called upon and the guys doing the work manage themselves (with the help of a scrum master).

    My tip for the agile world – if you are product manager, you can just about be a product owner (on a metascrum), but you can’t be the scrum master (or project manager) – it won’t scale.

What do you think?