Now that we’ve explored the product network, white space in the product network, and tension in the product network, we have the necessary context to describe how product management fits into the puzzle. It is first worthwhile to note what product management does not entail. While some product managers also can wear the hat of a developer, the role of a product manager does not entail touching the product itself; i.e., updating the code — this is the developers’ job. That the person most responsible for a product (the product manager) is not responsible for directly touching the product is a characteristic feature of product management.
So what does a product manager do? We’ve now set the stage for this cryptic answer to have concrete meaning:
A product manager is responsible for the healthy functioning of all the regions in the product network.
This responsibility can be divided into two overarching categories that map directly to the white space and synthesis regions we’ve discussed:
- Product management must recognize and fill the important white space between the elements of the product network; i.e., manage regions A, B, C. If an essential link is missing, the product manager must act as that link or find a way to fill it. Towards this end, a product manager must be able to at least adequately fill all roles surrounding a product, from web analytics, to account management, to project management.
- Product management must synthesize the different inputs effecting each element in the product network; i.e., manage tension regions AB, BC, and AC. A product manager must own the company’s narrative for each element. Developers need a clear story for what to do. Users need a clear story for how to use the product. The business needs a clear story for the product’s contribution to the world. Through an act of synthesis, the product manager is the author and evangelist of these stories.
These two functions are the yin and yang of product management. Filling white space is additive in nature. By adding missing links to the product network, the product manager adds necessary complexity to the system. Synthesis, conversely, is subtractive. The product manager must understand the complex web of product network inputs and reduce a product to the core elements that meet user, business, and engineering requirements.
I believe the above description of product management’s responsibility is always true, regardless of the company or product scenario. If you’re not performing those two functions, you’re not a “product manager.” However, the description is very general. Within those two categories of responsibility, there is a diverse range of activities performed by product management, depending on the situation.