Product management is in its pure abstract form is deceptively simple. There are really only three outcomes any product manager can impact, which I describe as the value triangle. During my experience as a product management consultant I have observed these three key product management goals being lost as the business forces product managers to invest most of their time being project managers.
A great product manager is the conduit between sales, marketing, the customer / user and engineering teams (including UX / Designers). Product managers capture the creativity and intelligence of the business as well as the user to shape products that engineering can deliver, resulting user / customer value and realizing the company strategy.
All the techniques employed by a product manager should result in adding value to the product. The product manager focuses on what I call the value triangle, at the three corners of the triangle are:
- Add a new feature
- Make product changes to encourage users to a valuable feature more frequently
- Make product changes to encourage users to users more valuable features
Making a product change is quite a diverse statement, it may involve reducing feature set, removing complexity, adding new options, user journey changes, UI tweaks, etc.
Adding a new feature is typically going to impact the users workflow associated with the product and the product manager has to aim to understand that impact and how this new feature improves and adds value to the user.
As one corner of the value triangle is focused on, another corner will likely be compromised. It is a careful balancing act to deliver the required value. In complex products the value triangle should be modeled to fit different user / market segments (or personas).
While many product manager roles will have to use the project management skills and techniques this is not their core responsibility. The key product artifacts such as product vision, product value proposition, product roadmap, product concepts, product feature descriptions, the product backlog, product analytics and competitor analysis are all tools to enable communication or achieve collaboration.
Often these artifacts get confused with project management artifacts where the focus is the resources allocation, removing impediments, stakeholder expectation management (typically around cost and schedule), contract management, role definitions and accountability.
Product managers do often manage release plans and by default have to fulfill the role of project management, but it is a mistake if this becomes their core role. Product must think of value proposition and the user / customer first, this can be a conflict of interest when they are wearing the project manager hat where typically delivery on time and under budget is the core goals.