Sunday, August 18, 2013

What is a Product Manager? (And why hiring one can save you a lot of money and headaches)

In the tech world, the role of Product Manager (PM) is well known within any successful software company. But outside the tech world, I frequently get blank stares when I tell people I am a PM. So what does a PM really do? And why are they useful? And why would using one for your technology projects save you time and money? 

 At a high level, a good PM should heavily guide the vision of the company’s products using input from customers and management. Or, if you are an organization working with a PM on building a website or technology product, the PM should work with you to translate your vision into what actually gets built. 

The relationship piece is really the key. A PM is the glue between the customer and the engineer. 

They can also play an important role as traffic control — managing all the different stakeholders (client services, sales, marketing, engineering) that want to have input on a project — to keep things moving. 

Imagine you want to start a fashion line and had no experience designing clothing. You want the clothes to be a made a certain quality and embody a certain style. You wouldn’t go to a clothing manufacturer and say “make me some clothes that are edgy, cool and high quality.” 

Who knows what you’d end up with? So yes, you’d hire a designer to design the individual clothing pieces. But you’d also make sure that you had someone who could work with you to make sure that the designer delivered what it is that you were expecting. You’d also need help working with the manufacturer, distributors, and retailers to ensure that your clothing was manufactured properly and handed off to the proper channels to make sure it could be sold. 

It’s the same with technology. 

Honestly, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen folks try to go it alone under the assumption they can simply work directly to the developers to build what they want. Then they are disappointed in the end when there is a communications breakdown and tons of time and money are wasted going back and trying to fix things (and this is no dig on engineers, but it simply takes a lot of work that is not programming related to translate concepts and vision into technical specs or even wireframes). 

It’s much easier and more cost effective to build something right the first time, then try to change it later. 

A solid PM should help you both create your vision for what you want to build, and work with the developers to make sure they deliver what you want. 


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