Product Management 101: The Role of the Product Manager

"What do you do?"

   "I'm a product manager."

"What does that mean?"

   "How long do you have...?"

The role of a product manager is complex, similar to any other professional role. If I had to succinctly define the role of a product manager, I'd use the 5W's to describe a product manager's responsibilities.

  • Define WHO is the customer
  • Define WHAT is the product
  • Define WHERE the product is going in the future and WHEN
  • Define WHY the customer should and will use the product (marketing)

This definition works for quickly informing someone of your job as a product manager, but to thrive as a product manager and build your capability as well as capability in others, a much more detailed job description is required.

I have been in search of such a thing in order to grow in my role as have others in my discipline. Senior leaders in Product at my company found the whitepaper "Behind Every Great Product: The Role of the Product Manager" by Martin Cagan at Silicon Valley Product Group. They shared it with the organization (both Product and beyond) in order to evangelize their vision for how the Product organization should and will operate.

This whitepaper has become my go-to reference for what success looks like as a product manager. While not an exhaustive reference, it provides a strong overview of both what a product manager does as well as how good product managers do it.

The roles and responsibilities of a product manager outlined in the whitepaper are:

  • Identifying and assessing opportunities
  • Right product, right time
  • Product Strategy and roadmap
  • Manages product not people
  • Represents product internally
    •    Evangelism
    •    Executive review
    •    Sales and marketing
  • Represents customer

The characteristics of good products managers that are outlined in the whitepaper are:

  • Personal traits
    •    Product passion
    •    Customer empathy
    •    Intelligence
    •    Work ethic
    •    Integrity
    •    Confidence
    •    Communication skills
  • Knowledge
    •    Know your customer
    •    Know your product
    •    Know your competitors
  • Attitude
    •    No excuses
    •    Defining success
    •    Nothing sacred
  • Skills
    •    Applying technology
    •    Focus
    •    Time management
    •    Written skills
    •    Presentation skills
    •    Business skills

Very few universities offer degrees in Product Management, so I will use Cagan's whitepaper as an outline for a Product Management 101 educational series with some additions based on my experience. I hope this will offer education for those interested in pursuing a career in product management, as well as those in a product manager or similar role that are interested in strengthening their craft.

Next in Product Management 101: Identifying and Assessing Opportunities

[the end.]

TEDxRVA 28-March-2014 Recap


More than 600 people from the RVA community came together at a sold-out VA Reps November Theatre to participate in the second TEDxRVA event. There were nine TEDx viewing centers were set up around RVA to watch on LiveStream. Capital One had 600 employees watching live in one room on their corporate campus, and many other companies in the area did the same. Twenty-two speakers from across a wide range of organizations, professions, and industries made quite an impression on the audience.

What an amazing networking event, with quite the diversity of talent in the audience. It was amazing that RVA hosted several high profile people from across the country, and amazing the speaking and performing talent that was represented by RVA.

Theme of the day was "RE_" and we were asked to write down and tweet RE_ words for each speaker. My words included: Reimage, reuse, redo, renew, reignite, reengage, remix, recondition, and rethink.

How did attending TEDxRVA benefit and affect me? Many, if not all, of the quotes captured below are applicable to work and life, and should be applicable in some way to your work and life, whether we are working in a small team, or working among giant organizations. Regardless of the speaker's direct topic, the underlying themes of leadership, imagination, creativity, invention, positive attitude, open-mindedness, customer focus, and listening, respecting and understanding others' perspectives are part of being a successful professional and living a more fulfilling life.

Andy Stefanovich was the host, chief curator, and MC. I was already familiar with Stefanovich from his part in kicking off RVA's C3 Breakfast Club and his book, "Look at More: A Proven Approach to Innovation, Growth, and Change." He did a remarkable job setting the stage and keeping the audience excited and engaged between speakers and performers. My quote of the day from him came early:

  • "Seek out those moments of truth. They will change you."

Mike Muse, founder of Muse Records, did an amazing job explaining how the art of music is like a political and cultural history map.

  • "Let’s go down a road of pop culture and politics."
  • "Stand for something or fall for everything."
  • "Don’t be passive about your democracy."
  • "Music defines a generation."
  • "Own your democracy."

Archie Lee Coates, IV of Playlab Inc. walked us through his journey to create the +POOL Project in New York City's East River. A true journey of idea to reality.

  • "Exploring is always worth it."
  • "You never waste time or money when you are exploring."
  • "Self-proclaimed weirdos, not knowing what they are doing, can change the world with ideas."

Jasmine Lawrence, a program manager for Microsoft Xbox and founder of EDEN BodyWorks, spoke about the need for imagination and creativity in public schools to drive an engineering and technology workforce in the future.

  • "Only 5% of the U.S. workforce is in engineering and technology. But who’s going to build the data-driven future we want?"
  • "You can't solve problems you don't know about. Get out of your box and identify and experience."
  • "Science fiction can become science fact by engaging kids with a focus on Identity, Exposure and Experience."

Dr. Lisa Freiman from VCU's Institute for Contemporary Art spoke about how imagination and creativity are being replaced by conformity and standardization in public schools. She gave the example of a student science fair where all the exhibits looked the same and all the experiments were reused from the internet.

  • "The North Face Effect: excess conformity and standardization everywhere."
  • "Schools used to be thought of places of imagination and experimentation."
  • Quoting Andre Breton: "Only imagination realizes the possible in me."
  • "I think we are facing a crisis of conformity, an excess of standardization."

Jim Meehan, a bartender, mixologist, and James Beard Award winner, really summarized the nuance of customer service vs. hospitality, and how to lead others to the same understanding.

  • "Service is a monologue and hospitality is a dialog."
  • "You won't learn what people expect or need until you open a dialogue with them."
  • "Manager's job is mixing people."
  • "Mirror and idealize people; pollinate and make them happy."
  • "Condition people to fit into the environment."

Dr. Tanya Pettiford-Wates of The Concilation Project literally and figuratively walked on-stage with a bag of issues.

  • "We all have issues."
  • "Issues are bigger than the individual yet we take those issues personally and get offended. Our issues get in the way."
  • "Recognize and Respect the issues in between us so we can have a relationship and reconciliation."
  • "People in the market are too embarrassed to look upon the truth."
  • "You cannot reconcile until you concile."

Ashley Stanley of Lovin' Spoonfuls shared her journey of how an at-whim question about food waste turned into her way to feed the hungry.

  • "You don't need to be Somebody to do something, you just need an idea."
  • "Food is the most powerful tool toward social justice."
  • "Ask yourself what you would do if you were not afraid."
  • "I surround myself with people that support me. If we are lacking anything in this world, it's hope."

Jesse Vaughan, the award winning film maker, shared how events in his life incited him to step out from ordinary to extraordinary.

  • "Life is a hero's journey and the hero is you."
  • "Have you had your inciting moment when you stepped out of your ordinary life?"
  • "Don't let your life mean nothing. Be a hero. May the force be with you."

Closing the day, Dr. Danny Avula of the Richmond Public Health Department talked about creating community.

  • "Suburban culture treats dependence as a weakness."
  • "We have become the most connected but lonely society."
  • "Front porch communities have become garages and privacy fences. We disconnect from what makes us human."
  • "Dependency creates relationships and community."
  • "Acts of honesty creates real relationships."

Other incredible speaker quotes...

  • "How can you call it a project if it's not in progress?" -Josh Braunstein, Water Collective
  • "Community is not working for, it is working with." -Duron Chavis, Happily Natural Day Festival
  • "Modernism is 100 years old. Time to reawaken." -David Rau, 3North
  • "It's the journey that matters." -Charlotte Potter & Robin Rogers, Chrysler Museum of Art Glass Studio
  • "If you can do what you do best to help others do their best, that is making a living." -Zoe Romano, world record holding runner
  • "I am beautiful because my heart stretches for miles." -Carmen Jones, VCU sophomore

All the speaker bios are here:

Watch the event online here:

Photos from the event are here:

#TEDxRVA tweets (including mine!) are here:

And it has already been announced that VCU will be hosting the next TEDxRVA in November 2014. I will be there!

[the end.]

Hello, My Name is Sam Bryant

The discipline of product management fascinates me and I’m still intrigued about how I landed in my career in Product.  I have a Business Information Technology degree with a focus in Decision Support Systems, a second choice after a trusted academic advisor made me aware that I would not enjoy a career in my major of Industrial & Systems Engineering. I love how people interact with systems to get things done, so I was fine with approaching this from a business perspective instead of technical.

Sam Bryant
Sam Bryant
My first job was in IT working on supply chain systems. It was interesting but not for me. I got an MBA and moved into Brand Management at Philip Morris USA and was one of many who managed Marlboro. I was not a smoker but adored the brand. Got swept up in the myth of the American West and how the Marlboro product embodied it. Freedom. Harmony with nature. Adventure.

While managing the Marlboro brand I worked on a marketing program using a prepaid debit card. This led me to make a jump to Affinion Loyalty Group (now Connexions Loyalty or CXL), who managed loyalty programs, primarily credit card-based points programs for the major financial institutions. I started in a sales support role and was on a team with product solutions managers. One of them was Wes. I had previously never heard of a formal product management discipline and didn’t know what it was.

My role expanded to include B2C marketing communications through a CXL-owned loyalty program. Another internal job hop and then I eventually landed in Product where I feel at home. I am working on a product that’s a hybrid of existing products but positioned for a new market for the company – health and wellness. I love the challenge and learnings that come with being in a startup part of the company.

I love Steve Jobs. Not as a person but as a product purist. I read Walter Issacson’s biography in less than a week and was one of five people who saw the Jobs movie. I love to talk about him and find him exceptionally interesting. A total a$$ but brilliant.

I love all products and aspects of product development, management, and marketing. I am a marketer, and working with the tremendous talent at Philip Morris and their ad agency Leo Burnett made me a good one.  I love technology and how it has transformed the world and continues to everyday.

I am optimistic, though sometimes too much of a cheerleader. Curious, but sometimes don’t have the time to dig as deep as I want. Adventurous, though now my adventure is driving 16 hours in a car with a 21 month old. I am an early majority adopter of new technologies and products that interest me. And I’m a mom. Nothing has transformed the way I look at the world more than creating human life and seeing it through the eyes of my toddler son.

I tend to first see things in black and white. These extremes create boundaries for me to then play in the fun grey space. You have to know the rules in order to break them. I think critically and deeply and have begun a meditation practice to clear my mind and allow room for these thoughts of grey to ruminate.

Wes and I are different in our demeanor, style, and the way we approach the world, but we share one thing in common: passion for product. I hope you’ll share it with us.

Sam Bryant's wordle

[the end.]

Hello, My Name is Wes Royer

According to my colleagues and various random business personality tests, I am both a dreamer and an analyst, both creative and logical. I think this blend of conceptual curiosity and systematic thinking is what fuels my passion for product development. But early in my career, I had no idea what product management was nor expected the path that would lead me here today.
Wes Royer
Wes Royer

I grew up just outside Washington, DC. Knowing one day I wanted to be a small business owner, I attended business school at George Mason University. Being a writer and editor for the student newspaper would feed my desire for research and investigation, with the goal of telling a story. Little did I know then that minoring in linguistics would lead me to experiment with programming languages.

My first job out of college was in communications at the NRA. Being the person in my department that was excited to work with web technologies to publish our press releases and newsletters, I was brought onto a management team working with a vendor to bring the NRA’s website into a modern multimedia format. I was officially hooked on web development.

I jumped deeper into a technology career as a web consultant for the USPS, but my next two jobs at American Type Culture Collection and McCord Travel Solution placed me in the unique role of being both a technologist and the product manager, running ecommerce, biotech, and travel platforms.  I had no idea what it meant to be a product manager, and only later in my career would I realize that many successful product managers took this indirect path to being the business owner of a product line or platform, and that was natural. At this point, I was finding my passion.

After short stints in sales and then on Naval contracts at Northrop Grumman, I ended up at Affinion and Connexions Loyalty. I started in a BSA role supporting clients, but was quickly plucked from the team to focus on product development, a new concept for the company at the time. After reshaping the role and placing several solid resources on the team, I made the switch from IT to Product Marketing, becoming the platform product owner and developing roadmaps and strategy. This is where I met Sam, and where we started sharing our thoughts, ideas, experiences, disciplines, and lessons learned.

Whether I was the senior manager of Loyalty Platform & Product Solutions on the business side or managing the solutions analyst product development team in IT, I had found my home. I was taking products from concepts and visions full cycle into software that was being sold and implemented at the major financial institutions, airlines, and hotel chains.

Now I have taken my skills and experience to GE Healthcare. I have never worked in healthcare before, developing software for hospital management and clinicians to more efficiently and safely manage their capital assets, patients, and staff. But my entire career has been about researching and investigating things that are new to me. My career has been about systematically and logically thinking about what the norm is today and conceptualizing what users and customers wish the norm was tomorrow. And my goal (and Sam’s) is to help other professionals and companies live and breathe in this space with not just a certain comfort level, but with an excitement for the possibility of seeing ideas and dreams become real-world products that customers need and want to use as a normal part of their lives.

Wes Royer's wordle

[the end.]