Product Management

Product development is the process of designing, building, operating, and maintaining a good or service. Software and Internet companies use a product development process to ensure that they are not just manufacturing a technology, but creating a product that people will want to buy and continue to use. To be sure, a base technology is at the heart of the product, but product development ensures that the customer's voice is not lost in the rush to an exciting technology. Product development adds things like pricing, marketing, and customer support to the technology to create a complete product.

Without a product management philosophy and discipline, an IT organization becomes focused on the technology instead of the customers and is often organized along technology lines rather than in ways that benefit the customer. Ultimately, an IT organization must serve its customers or it will go out of business, either because the customers go away or because they complain to executive management until the organization is changed. Here we discusses the product management discipline and how it can be applied to creating a customer driven IT organization.

Product Development

Product development is performed by a multi-disciplinary team whose goal is building, operating, and maintaining the product. Team members may include product managers, software developers, project managers, product operations engineers, customer support managers, software quality assurance engineers, user interface design engineers, marketers, financial personnel, and graphic artists.

The product manager serves as the leader of this cross functional team. While the product manager does not necessarily function as the operational manager for these people, she does lead, coordinate, and supervise their work toward the end goal of making the product a reality, launching it, operating it, and managing it throughout its life cycle. Product management as a discipline is about what the product should be. Product managers are advocates for the customer's needs and desires. A large product might have numerous product managers working towards its success at a variety of levels, all the way from the junior product manager writing specifications about single feature sets to a product strategy director who has overall responsibility to executive management for the product direction.

A product manager's responsibilities include the following:

  • Defining and planning product lines and product enhancements

  • Managing product contracts and sales

  • Managing product contracts and sales

  • Setting strategic direction based on customer needs and business goals

  • Interpreting strategic goals into operational tasks

  • Making proposals to senior management regarding implications of proposed plans

  • Serving as a representative to internal and external clients. Taking the lead in establishing tactical plans and objectives

  • Developing and implementing administrative and operational matters ensuring achievement of objectives

  • Evaluating risks and trade-offs

  • Proposing contingency plans

  • Analyzing business processes and creating applications to improve or support those processes

  • Branding

  • Defining feature sets and scooping releases

  • People not familiar with the discipline of product management frequently get a product manager confused with other players. Its useful to look at what a product manager is not. A product manager is not:

    A developer - Developers are focused on the technology and not the overall product. Some great product managers are former developers, but it is difficult to do both at once. There is a natural tension between developers and product managers that should be maintained to create a balanced product.

    A software manager - the software manager is a functional manager and usually not focused on the product or the customers.

    A project manager - project managers are about how and when, while the product manager is about what. Project managers work closely with product managers to ensure successful completion of different phases in the product life cycle.

    A marketer - while product management is usually seen as a marketing discipline, marketers is focused on the marketing plan and is usually not driving the overall product direction.

    Product managers are accountable to executive management for overall product direction, key decisions, product budget (and sometimes even the complete product P&L), ensuring that final product meets specifications, and evangelizing product to internal and external stakeholders. Product managers also have accountability to users for feature sets, navigation, quality, and overall experience.

    Before we can discuss product management as a discipline and how it functions in the organization we must consider two important life cycles: In the next section, we'll talk about the product life cycle; in the following section we'll discuss the customer life cycle.

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