Framework for Product Roles

Over the last year, I’ve interviewed dozens of candidates and reviewed hundreds of resumes for various product manager roles. One of the challenges that I’ve run into is the varying definitions of “Product Manager” and “Product Owner”.

I’ve put this graph together to roughly represent what I’ve been seeing.

“Product Manager” may mean someone who is mostly strategic, or who is expected to be strategic and tactical (with an emphasis on strategic). “Product Owner”, on the other hand, usually means someone who is mostly tactical, or someone who is expected to be both strategic and tactical (with an emphasis on the tactical).


And I’ve run into quite a few project managers and business analysts whose roles sound quite similar to PM/PO, but (so far) all have been more focused on the tactical.

This is an oversimplification, but a useful framework for thinking about product roles. If you apply to a “Product Owner” or “Product Manager” role, be sure to ask what kind they have in mind!

I realize the terms strategic and tactical are a little vague. Marty Cagan describes the difference in his article: “Product Strategy – Overview
“Whatever the goal is, your strategy is how you’re planning to go about accomplishing that goal.  Strategy doesn’t cover the details; those are the tactics we’ll use to achieve the goal. Strategy is the overall approach, and the rationale for that approach….So many of the companies I meet have a goal (like doubling revenue), and they have a product roadmap (the tactics), yet no product strategy to be found.”

What do you think? Is this a useful framework for you?

Book Review: No Rules Rules

★★★★★

Cover of "No Rules Rules: Netflix and the Culture of Reinvention" by Reed Hastings and Erin Meyer

https://www.norulesrules.com/

“No Rules Rules: Netflix and the Culture of Reinvention” by Reed Hastings and Erin Meyer

This book is incredibly well-written. I loved the back-and-forth between Hastings’ viewpoint and Meyer’s. Each concept is told with excellent stories surrounding them. Having Meyer’s voice as someone telling the story as seen from the outside is a powerful counterpoint to Hastings’ first person knowledge.

For anyone who is leading a company, or in a position to influence how a company is led, this book is invaluable. Hastings and Meyer walk you through the building blocks to Netflix’s winning culture, block by block, explaining how each relies on the previous one for the next to be possible.

Note, however, that this isn’t a generic leadership book. If you’re not leading a company or can’t influence how one is led, it’s likely to be interesting, but not that useful. I can’t see many of the principles and ideas in this book working at a departmental level.

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Learning Tech Basics for Non-Technical PMs

As a product manager without a technical background, I’ve faced challenges in getting a deep enough understanding of the tech used at my company to be able to effectively understand the conversations that I’m a part of.

In my past career as a UX director, I worked a great deal with various eCommerce systems (Websphere and Hybris) as well as CMSes (mostly Adobe Experience Manager). But now that I work at a B2B SaaS company, the technologies are considerably different. And since we’re 100% remote, it’s not possible to overhear developer chatter and pick up on context.

While obviously I can (and do!) ask the developers directly to explain key concepts, I’ve found some great resources online that have helped a great deal.

Every time that I hear a new technical term that I’m not familiar with during a meeting, I write it in a doc. When I have a free moment, I look it up and add a definition to the doc, creating a great resource for myself that grows over time.

In this article, I’ve listed out a variety of free and paid resources that might be helpful for others in a similar position.

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Book Review: Continuous Discovery Habits

Continuous Discovery Habits: Discover Products that Create Customer Value and Business Value, by Teresa Torres

★★★✬☆

My notes from the book
My messy notes

Continuous Discovery is a how-to book, with a series of clear instructions on how to do discovery, definition, ideation, and assumption / value testing. It also explains the why behind each step.

Personally, I’m used to the model that looks something like Discover > Define > Design (& iterate) > Develop > Deliver > Measure (& iterate). I was expecting 100% of this book to fall into the Discover category, and was surprised when it went beyond that.

While Teresa does emphasize at a few points that her methods are meant to help develop the right mindset, rather than a be-all end-all “right” methodology, the book still ends up being mostly an instructional book. And since it covers a lot of ground, the book covers one methodology at each step.

So if you’re looking to go from goal setting all the way through assumption testing with a step-by-step instruction book, this book is for you. However, if you’re looking for a comprehensive overview of different discovery methodologies and ways to document discovery findings, look elsewhere.

The book does have a lot of practical tips that I plan to bring back to work.
Chapters 5, 6, and 7 were the most valuable chapters for me.

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How vision, strategy, objectives, epics, and principles relate to one another

Book Review: Strong Product People

Strong Product People: A Complete Guide to Developing Great Product Managers by Petra Wille


When I was offered the opportunity to become Head of Product Management at my current job, I looked for resources to help inform my approach.

I couldn’t have dreamed up a better or more practical resource than Petra Wille’s Strong Product People. The book is simply packed full of useful, tactical, real-world advice.

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Blurred out view of the top half of our blueprint

Service Blueprints: A Tool for Mapping out Complex Problems

As a product manager, I recently had a new team added to my responsibilities. One of my new priorities was to help improve a complex flow that was taking a lot of our team’s time, and was the source of some pain points for our customers.

While there was a pre-existing idea of what we needed to do, I wasn’t sure it was the right first step to take. Instead, I wanted to take a look at the process more holistically, come up with ideas, and prioritize.
This flow involves our customers, people at our company in contact with the customers, and people at our company doing more work behind the scenes. It also involves our public website, our app, and multiple back-end systems.

Given the complexity, a service blueprint seemed like an obvious choice to help me understand what the flow is today, and how we could improve it in the future.

Example blueprint from Miro, with physical evidence, customer actions, onstage contact actions, backstage contact actions, and support processes
Example from Miro
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Showing PM at the intersection of technology, data, business, and UX

From UX Director to Product Manager

I recently gave a talk for UX Akron on the similarities and differences between being a UX director at an agency vs a client-side product manager. I made that switch mid-year 2020, after more than 6 years as a UX director.

I covered:

  • A brief definition of what a digital product manager is
  • The differences in terms of where I spend my time as a UX director vs a product manager within a given project
  • The skills needed for a product manager vs a UX director
  • Resources to learn more about becoming a product manager

You can watch a video of the presentation, look at the presentation itself, or check out my summary below.

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Example graph

Intro to SQL for Product Managers, Part 3

Please check out part 1 and part 2 if you haven’t already.

In this section, I’ll talk about a few ways to look at time when it comes to SQL queries.

Time is often an important piece of the puzzle for a product manager.

How many people have done x in the last 30 days? How many people did x within 7 days of signing up? How has our cancellation rate changed over time? How many people did x before we made a change vs after? etc.

Queries to figure out any of that require a good understanding of how to make the appropriate queries in SQL.

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Example Product Manager Data Analysis Tools & Usage

Example of Google Analytics (from my blog) - shows a pageviews graph and table.
(Note: This is from my blog, not the app I work on)

Here’s a look what data tools I use as a product manager, and what I use them for. This might be useful for those who aren’t yet PMs, or those who are and are curious how others look at information. I’m sure it differs between companies.

For reference, I work at a B2B SaaS (business-to-business software-as-a-service) company.

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Product Management One-Pagers

Once I’ve determined what problems to tackle in the near term, I find it useful to create a “one-pager” to synthesize my thoughts around a problem/project. This is after the point where discovery research has been done, and I’ve talked with the team (including tech leads, designers, and another product manager) about the idea. 

I’ve listed the sections I found most useful to include, both for myself to confirm it’s a project worth tackling, as well as for the designer to read before they start designing. (Keep in mind, I’m only a few months into being a product manager! But this is what I’ve done so far)

For me, these are to help guide the team as they begin thinking through details; it’s not meant as a functional requirements document, nor should it be overly prescriptive. 

Several resources are included at the end of this article; I highly encourage you to check out John Cutler’s article and/or video for some great insights and frameworks around this idea.

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