This is something that comes up from time to time, especially in organisations that are starting to evolve digitally. Product Managers have been swinging for the fences at tech companies for a while, but now everywhere from the public sector to the corporate world are starting to integrate product roles all over the place and long may it continue!

 But as with anything new being introduced into an established culture there is always some friction, this comes from ambiguity (that’s why we have product people in the first place). As with the agile way of thinking, a little bit of transformation is needed to actually feel the benefits of these jack of all trades (masters of a few as well 🙂).

There are tons of blogs giving the textbook definition of what product does. This is my take on the subject based on questions I often get asked and the way I like to position what we product folk do. Of course like with many roles this changes from organisation  to organisation so please don’t send me any “You missed off x,y,z” or “I’ve been in product for 15 years and I never did that” love notes. 

“What is a Product Manager?”

For me, a Product Manager is the champion of a product: they are a subject matter expert; they are the one who owns the roadmap for that product; they might come up with more products; they might decommission a product.

Essentially they are the person who “gets shit done” for a product.  “We are here, we want to get there, and this is what we are going to do to make that happen”. That doesn’t mean they are the sole owner but they do have a massive stake in the product. A good Product Manager sits across all aspects of that particular business and a good organisation will empower responsibility of that product to the Product Manager.

Product Managers sit across user experience (UX), development, and the “business” (commercial/service/content), meaning they have a holistic view of the overall impact/benefit for said product to make that informed decision of “what we are going to propose here is….”.

“Oh so it’s a promotion of the Project Manager role?”

Let’s dispel this myth right now. First of all, there are some amazingly talented Project Managers out there that have made  the transition into product (like myself 🙂). That does not mean all Product Managers everywhere were project managers or even made good Project Managers. Product Managers can come from a whole array of talents: UX, sales, development, delivery, support, the list goes on and on. The point is they know a lifecycle from breathing it and from knowing that rhythm of getting stuff done. They have acquired that skill of asking that question, that ignites that spark of innovation, that takes us from meh to GREAT.

“OK, so you are like a digital cross breed between Don Draper and Steve Jobs?”

I wish! Sadly no, essentially Product Managers spend a lot of their time writing roadmaps and prioritising bugs/firefighting whilst figuring out what new stuff can we do that is actually going to add value for the end user.  Oh and spending a lot of time with Trello.

Sometimes it’s not as sexy as the remit suggests, it does mean saying no a lot, having everyone wanting something from you and sometimes taking the flack for stuff that may be out of your control but its your product, its your baby, and the buck stops with you.

“Why product management then?”

Because with every product management role there is a chance to make a real change, to make something of real value. Great game changing products, like all things, do have a shelf life but it’s the Product Manager’s role to extend and evolve that shelf life to be something spectacular.  Although I give the impression in this blog that a Product Manager owns the product, they don’t, if it’s a really good product it will have a lifecycle that spans past your time in that role.

We are the custodians of that product, either you created it and you want it to live on and keep growing, or you inherited it and you want to move the bar past where it was before. Either way you are attached to it, you want what’s best for it, and you want people to use it and feel as passionate about it as you do. If you don’t want any of those things then I suggest a new career choice.

“Why is the industry crying out for them so much at the moment?”

In my opinion, this role came out of a lack of prioritisation on the tasks/initiatives that were conceived to enable a organisations’ strategic goal. Organisations have become quite good at saying “as an organisation, we are going after these 4 things” but when it comes to the “How?” Usually the response is “well we have tons of projects, lets just do them all! There is no way we can’t achieve our vision”. It is at that point they need someone to say “OK as a organisation we want to do “A”meaning we need to do “B, C, and D” but to do “B” we need “E”, and so on. They might not know how to achieve “E” but they have the resources and talent to know what “E” could be.


Product Managers don’t have all the answers but will strive to solve the problem. To be able to make that informed decision that solves said problem you need to consult with the relevant people on what they are the experts in, and more importantly acknowledge what you don’t know. That is why the digital native or the Jack-of-all-trades tends to move into product management.