Defining Product Management: The Consummate Product Manager (Part 3 of 5)

“To achieve conceptual integrity, a design must proceed from one mind or a small group of agreeing minds. Separation of architectural effort from implementation is a very powerful way of getting conceptual integration on very large projects. If a system is to have conceptual integrity, someone must control the concepts. That is an aristocracy that needs no apology.” – Frederick P. Brooks

We’ve spoken about the difference between products and projects and provided an example alignment of those concepts, so now it makes sense to focus on exactly how a product manager would take a product “from the cradle to the grave”. What are the functional areas of their role? What are the specific daily and periodic tasks and activities which need to be performed?

Example Job Description
A Product Manager is considered a senior accountable party for the ideation, instantiation, operational maintenance and support, and decommissionment of a specific application/service or suite of applications/services. To adequately succeed at this role a product manager is expected to perform activities across four specific areas: strategy, relationship management, project implementation and delivery, and operations.

In driving the strategic direction of a product suite, a product manager is expected to:

  • Define and maintain the overall product strategy and roadmap
  • Define the vision and scope for individual projects to be executed within his product suite
  • Execute product resource and capacity planning
  • Act as the Voice of the Customer and Product Advocate

To manage line of business relationships and partnerships, which provides the explicit mandate for product and project execution, a product manager must:

  • Act as a trusted advisor to senior business stakeholders and executives
  • Provide accurate and timely status reporting on product portfolios
  • Regularly liaise with the Business to discuss both short and long-term strategy and goals, the impact to existing products and projects, and new product ideas

Within the product suite, there are expected to be both packaged maintenance and enhancement deliverables, as well as larger-scale initiatives. As these projects spin-up and go through implementation and delivery, a product manager is expected to:

  • Review and contribute to the business case definition and cost-benefit analysis
  • Review any estimations and confirm alignment with the overall resource and capacity planning efforts
  • Review and sign-off on scope changes, as necessary, and communicate the overall impact to the product suite
  • Draft and provide communications to business users, stakeholders, and executives as to the benefits of project implementations
  • Accept joint responsibility for the confirmation of product acceptance at the end of the individual project lifecycles

From an operational standpoint, the product manager is responsible for the up-time of his applications and services, as well as the more tactically focused activities, which include, but are not limited to:

  • Prioritization of production enhancements and defects
  • Provision of business subject-matter expertise to business users, if required
  • Acting as an escalation point for production application and service issues
  • Ongoing budget management, as outlined from overall product resource and capacity planning

The net-net result is that a product manager has a much broader focus than implementation and delivery. This role is strategic in nature and it’s completely aligned with long-term vision and change. It’s focused on driving the definition of larger-scale benefits that can be extracted from technology and process changes, and in creating and protecting organization value through the skillful usage of organizational assets.

In Brooks’ world, product managers would be the conceptual architects – they would be responsible for confirming that all the pieces of their world fit together. In some organizations you see the challenge of warring stakeholders, unidentifiable stakeholders, or nonexistent stakeholders. In all of those cases, the value of product management is the ability, both professionally and conceptually, to fill that gap and to become the single, coherent Voice of the Customer so that we execute in a coherent, controlled manner. This is not a consensus-driven activity, nor is it by quorum. It is dictatorial, by necessity, and one of the largest challenges of our modern organization, if one wants to do this function properly, is to accept the individualistic, authorial, and autocratic nature of the role.

However, part of defining what something is, is clearly defining what it is not. In the next section, “Breaking the Role Overlap”, we’ll cover that.

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