At Intersection X, we've come to an interesting realization over the last year. It's a big realization so take a breath. Ready? Here it comes.
It's time to say goodbye to the the title of Product Manager.
Say Whaaaaaat? Why? Well put simply, the Product Manager title has lost its meaning. It means too many different things to too many different people. It is simultaneously too broad and yet too narrow a term.
In large organizations the Product Manager role is now often indiscernible from the Project Manager role. With longer development cycles that come with more mature products, the focus swings from product definition to product delivery. On-time delivery becomes the predominant measure of success and Product Managers get sucked into it's vortex. The Product Manager's effort is solely focused on the efficiency of delivery and removing obstacles to delivery. Sounds a lot like a Project Manager, right?
At the other end of the spectrum in startup-land (where we live!) the term Product Manager is too narrow a definition for the role being played. Life as a startup Product Manager is so much more that managing a product. Aside from the fact that frequently the product doesn't exist yet (!), startup product managers are responsible for wide-ranging efforts from roadmap (product strategy), to product positioning (product marketing), to on-boarding (customer acquisition).
Ok, so if "Product Manager" is too narrow a term for startup-land then what's the right moniker? Well, let's generalize a typical Intersection X engagement to help us understand the role better.
StartupCo has engaged Intersection X to be their product department. They have just launched their MVP of a photo sharing app. It leverages cool new machine learning technology to rapidly sift through your photos and generate printable mosaics of your face made up of your photos (Note: this is a completely made up business!). StartupCo has great engineering resources, an awesome head of sales (also their CEO), a handful of early customers, 6 months of runway and they want to be successful.
Our challenge, and the startup Product Manager's, would be to now mix up a recipe with the company's resources (MVP + Eng + Sales + Runway) that creates a product that the market wants, can buy and StartupCo can deliver. There will be many questions; what's the right price? What's the right price unit? How do we position it? Do we have enough time to deliver that cool new feature that we think increases stickiness? What's the next feature after that?....The journey to the end-state will have the product manager passing through every department at StartupCo as well as the market, and pulling all those threads together to work out what the right recipe is. Traditional product management best practices simply won't suffice.
At Intersection X we would draw upon our product management, product marketing, product strategy, customer acquisition and entrepreneurial experience to find the right recipe for StartupCo. With tight timelines, dynamic markets and less than perfect information the secret to success is having that breadth of knowledge and understanding. Again, the title of Product Manager doesn't get anywhere close to connoting what the startup Product Manager is actually doing!
<drags-over-the-soap-box/>The real issue here is that we, as product managers, have a product marketing issue. People don't understand what we do at Startups. It's time we reposition our own product (ourselves) to better articulate what we do!
To do that we must, with a tinge of sadness, say adios dear Product Manager! Farewell good friend!
And with that, in rushes a gust of fresh air. We can now recognize that our real value is in taking the resources available to the company and working creatively within the constraints to bring to market the best product we can. We are in fact Productizers! Say it one, say it all, "We are Productizers". Our productizing task is to package what our company can offer into a product that the market wants, can understand, compare, purchase and consume.
So there it is. We encourage all you startup Product Managers out there to drop the old-school job title and embrace your new title of Productizer!