02001 The Two Types Of Product Managers

Although most of us in the software industry use the term Product Manager like any other job title, positions that go by this name actually involve two separate flavors, or types, different enough that in any other area you would find two distinct job titles. Both flavors of Product Manager involve a considerable amount of overlap, yet each one fulfills aspects of product management that the other does not.

Because all functions provided by both these types are required for the success of your software product, it is critical that you understand which flavor your product managers are delivering at your company so that your organization can fill in the missing pieces.


Two Types: What Are They?

Here are the two distinct types of software Product Manager:

Type 1: Technical Product Manager

This person focuses on the interface with software development. The position may even use this title. Technical Product Managers typically spend a significant amount of time defining requirements in great detail for programmers to implement. They are expected to get involved in verification of new functionality, from internal review sessions to quality assurance testing of the software and documentation. They may be called upon during the pre-sales effort, though this is usually to provide technical backup rather than to shoulder responsibility for developing and demonstrating a full-blown sales scenario.

With a Technical Product Manager, you can be confident that your product functions according to specifications, and that features you asked for actually get into the product with the right functionality. But you run the risk of having a weak marketing and sales message for your product, and the sales force is on its own when it comes to creating realistic scenarios that really grab a prospect's attention.

Type 2: Marketing Product Manager

This person focuses on defining the product to the prospect and customer base, as well as discovering what new functionality the market wants in order to keep the product competitive. Marketing Product Managers typically spend a significant amount of time on presentations to customers, prospects, sales reps, and partners, as well as assisting with trade shows, marketing collateral and press releases. They are expected to be involved with all aspects of marketing and selling the product. Usually a Marketing Product Manager can be relied upon to develop strong scenarios that salespeople can use to convince prospects to buy.

With a Marketing Product Manager, you can be confident that your product is positioned to its advantage in terms of marketing and sales messages as well as marketing materials and efforts. But you run the risk of having a spotty implementation of features needed to keep up with the market, as well as delays in promised features and releases.

The Key Is To Fill In The Gaps

No single Product Manager can cover the full range of functions provided by both of the above types, because Product Managers inevitably have to get involved in details, much more than would an executive, who can afford to cover the whole gamut of business functions, but at a high level. What you need for your product's success is to cover A to Z, yet one type covers A to P, and the other covers J to Z.

So what do you do? The trick is to make certain first of all that you understand which type of Product Manager you have, and then make sure that other departments in the company are positioned to fill in the gaps. For example, if you have a Technical Marketing Manager, it is critical that you build a strong Marketing, Sales, and Pre-Sales operation to project a powerful image of your product with real-world scenarios and benefits.

If, on the other hand, you have a Marketing Product Manager, it is essential that your software development or engineering organization is up to snuff, using a solid development methodology with strong programmers who can take high-level requirements and flesh them out, then develop and test them to meet deadlines following a closely managed project plan.

Go For Full Coverage

Although it certainly isn't easy, you can make sure that you're covering the full range of your product management needs. To get there you first have to know yourself, specifically the strengths and weaknesses of the Product Manager position at your company, and then make up for the weaknesses by relying on other functions at the company, whether Marketing, Sales and Pre-Sales, or Development and QA. Without full coverage, your product is weakened at a time when products can be far outdistanced by their competition in no time flat. With full coverage, your product can pull ahead of the field, and stay ahead, and your competition will never know what hit ‘em.

— Jacques Murphy, Product Management Challenges


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