Ask A Good Product Manager

Your product management questions answered

Are product managers always just developing new products?

Posted on April 26, 2011 · 3 Comments

Question: Do product managers really manage products, or just develop new ones?

If you have the title of product manager, but all you do is launch new products, does that make you in fact a product developer / project manager, rather than a product manager? After all, many of the same skills are required for product management and product development — e.g. understanding user requirements / needs.

Answer from Adrienne Tan of brainmates: Your question touches the very heart of Product Management. Before answering your question, we should put some loose definition around Product Management.

Very often Product Management tends to fulfill tactical roles in organisations. But the role of Product Management is twofold; it is both strategic and tactical, long term and short term.

Product Management is responsible for identifying long term customer value and deliver ongoing financial results to the business.

To achieve these objectives, Product Management has to:

  • Understand customer problems,
  • Uncover Market Insights (competitors, industry trends, economic climate)
  • Determine the market potential of new ideas
  • Prepare Business Cases
  • Define (Market and Product) Requirements
  • Price new products
  • Plan product launches

Depending on the size of the organisation, not all tasks may fall under 1 role but may be split across various people within the Product Management team. The larger the organisation, the larger the Product Management team and the more varied the roles within the team.

The person responsible for launch activities may be called a Product Manager or a Product Marketer or sometimes a Product Planner.

To answer your question more directly, those responsible in the Product Management team for product launches are sometimes called Product Managers. However, it’s important to remember that there should be a team of people responsible for product launches. There are Project Managers, Product Developers, and — yes –Product Managers as well.

Each role (should) coexists well together and is accountable for different components of the product launch:

  • The Project Manager focuses on launching on time and within the project budget.
  • The Product Manager focuses on articulating customer value and making sounds business decisions that impact the product’s finances.
  • The Product Developer focuses on delivering a functioning product with the required features.

Launching a new product from idea to market delivery is a complex process. But perhaps the key ingredient to any product launch is the ‘upfront’ work around customer and market definition.

And, if all three roles consider the customer and appreciate their needs, then the product’s success in the market is greatly enhanced.

3 other answers so far ↓

  • Derek Britton // Apr 27, 2011 at 7:55 am

    Totally agree with the above, and I just wanted to add another thing.

    typically, as one product enters the market, especially if it an”incremental” or “organic” new revision of an existing line, another activity is to make room for it in the market and generate some commercial impetus by taking an older variant off the market.

    Product retirement or “sundown” is therefore another key activity of the product manager; though it is often overlooked and seldom executed with the same vigour as a new launch.

    but if you consider many of the target clients for the new product are users of your older products (in most markets this is true), then retiring old products is as critical as developing the right new product in terms of market potential.

    there are texts and templates for retirement plans, which cover a lot of the same ground as launch plans, ironically. In fact, I would see “Retirement planning” as a critical sub-task of any new product launch.

    So back to the question – while a “focus” is new products, this actually means the whole comet-tail of managing mature and moribund products too.

    It suggests that no Product Manager can act as a single Product manager, they must consider the family of products already on the market and determine the impact they have on the new product strategy.

  • product management experts brainmates April eMuse | Unashamedly Creative // May 2, 2011 at 11:09 pm

    […] Do Product Managers Really Manage Products, or Just Develop New Ones? Recently brainmates Adrienne Tan was asked to give her thoughts on what role a Product Manager actually plays in management versus development of products. Tackling it in true Product Manager style, you can catch Adrienne’s response to “Ask a Good Product Manager”. […]

  • Linda Gorchels // Sep 7, 2011 at 8:29 am

    There are two fundamentally different – through related – classifications of product management functions: upstream functions and downstream functions. Upstream functions deal with the strategies of product roadmaps and new product development efforts. This usually includes identifying critical portfolio needs, and then providing marketing leadership throughout the development process up until launch. Downstream functions deal with ongoing lifecycle management. Some medical device and diagnostic manufacturers (in particular) hire separate people for the two job categories. GE Healthcare, for example, has had upstream product managers responsible for global product strategy and launch. The downstream product managers handled the marketing and sales support necessary to manage the profitable sales of products after launch and beyond.

    Product managers who have downstream responsibilities are heavily involved with product lifecycle management. When dealing with existing products, product managers are expected to do one or more of the following: (1) reinforce and protect sales of “core” and secondary products, (2) renew and revitalize sales of products that should be strong but have begun to falter; (3) relaunch or resurrect selected products or concepts; and/or (4) retire failing products.

    Both are important functions within an organization.

What do you think?