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?

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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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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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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