What makes a great software product manager

Understanding the role of a product manager: the underestimated success factor

The exciting thing about the job of the product manager is its diversity and the wide range of tasks. No two positions are the same. Product managers work at the interface of dozens of other departments, have different priorities and accompany their baby through the entire process from the idea to the launch.

At the same time, the breadth of product management is one of the greatest challenges. In the absence of a generally applicable definition, every product manager has to answer the question: What exactly is my role? What is expected of me, what are my most important goals? These questions are easy to answer for the software developer: Develop software as quickly and error-free as possible. For product managers, the answer is far less clear and simple.

That may sound like a minor matter, like a theoretical discussion. But what if I claim that a clear understanding of one's own role is one of the most important and at the same time mostly underestimated success factors for product managers? In this article, you will learn why that is.

Why it is so difficult to understand roles

Do product managers really have trouble understanding their own role? Simple answer: yes! In a survey by the Product Management Festival, 35% of the questioned product managers said that an unclear understanding of their role in the company (“lack of role clarity”) was one of their three biggest challenges. Without a representative survey, I regularly have the same experience in discussions with product managers.

There is no industry standard

Part of the problem is the lack of an industry standard for the role of product manager. Every company interprets them differently, in some cases product managers have completely different areas of responsibility within a company despite the same title. And it is easy to understand that product managers for insurance tariffs, machine tools and e-commerce software are hardly comparable.

There are numerous roles in product management

Secondly, there are numerous roles within product management, which are sometimes more or less clearly differentiated by different job titles. Each of these roles is either more operational or strategic, with an emphasis on either the technical (product-specific) or business aspects.

These include, for example:

  • product manager
  • Strategic product manager
  • Technical product manager
  • Product owner
  • Product Marketing Manager
  • Product Line / Product Portfolio Manager
  • and more…

Here you will find a detailed description of what is hidden behind 10 job titles in product management. Even within these roles there are big differences. How exactly your own role is and should be defined can only be answered by yourself. I will give you a few tips on this at the end. Whether technology or business should be in the foreground is a matter of taste. However, if you want to have a career, you always have to work as strategically as possible. I will now explain how this understanding of your roles makes you more successful.

How a clear understanding of roles helps product managers advance

A clear understanding of your role is like a detailed, accurate job description in your head. Being clear about one's own role has a positive effect on all tasks and decisions of a product manager and helps him to move forward faster. These are the effects:

Recognize and achieve the real goals

Knowing your role means knowing your goals. Your role as a product manager is primarily determined by how your supervisors and management understand them. They see you as having a certain responsibility and expect certain results from you, in the form of key figures or milestones achieved.

Management does not judge product managers on how many tickets they process, but on how much their contribution to the company's goals is. Every product manager has to ask himself: Do I know the expectations placed on me? Do I know specifically how my success will be measured? Do I know the relevant KPIs? And have I defined my goals for my product and for myself personally? Without knowing exactly what your goals are, you cannot work on them and will never achieve them.

Identify and prioritize the core tasks

Based on the goals, product managers need to recognize what their main tasks are. I don't mean the tasks that take up the most time - but those that bring you closer to your defined goals and that are critical to your role.

Without a clear understanding of their roles, product managers can easily get caught in the treadmill of operational business: They answer inquiries, process tickets, support sales and take part in all conceivable meetings. Product managers should always give priority to strategic tasks! They deliver the greatest value contribution to product and company success. Only when product managers know their core tasks can they prioritize them in their calendars and in their heads and concentrate on them.

Delegate tasks

Concentrating on the core tasks also means delegating other tasks. Those who clearly understand their own role know which tasks they should not do themselves - because they are not a priority for them or because they are not sufficiently qualified to do so. IT, marketing or purchasing tasks belong to the respective departments.

Delegating tasks and coordinating projects with many participants without doing everything yourself is not easy. Fending off “urgent” requests from other departments as well. Product managers need strong communication and leadership skills and assertiveness. But when they know their role and know that this is what is expected of them, they must accept this challenge.

to get support

In sales, the product manager is seen as the “explainer” in sales discussions, in marketing as a supplier for the product documents, in IT as second-level support and the rest of the company is unsure what product management is doing. How are product managers supposed to get respect and support under these circumstances?

In order to make it clear to others what contribution product management makes in the company, product managers have to know and live their role. If the other departments see how they themselves benefit from strategically oriented product management, they will be much more willing to support it. Through a shared understanding of roles with management, the product manager can get additional support and improve his standing in the company.

Seize development opportunities

No matter how experienced and successful a product manager is, after an intensive analysis of his or her own role, everyone will find potential for improvement. However, many are even shocked to discover that up to now they have completely wrongly filled their role. So far, they have not sufficiently understood the expectations placed on them, their real goals and core tasks.

It is almost always due to the fact that product managers work too operationally, too technically, too “reactively”, not paying enough attention to their strategic and management tasks. Many product managers are lateral entrants and have never been specifically trained for these areas of responsibility. With a clear understanding of their roles, product managers can see in which topics they need special training in order to achieve their goals - and in which topics they can have the courage to leave gaps.

Better career opportunities

All of this brings us to the conclusion: As a product manager, a clear understanding of your own role is a real career turbo. If you know your goals and set your priorities accordingly, you will achieve faster results. Concentrating on strategic tasks and skillfully delegating are characteristics of good leaders - and you will be perceived as such.

If you correctly fill your role as a product manager, your products will automatically be more successful. With such arguments in your luggage and a doer image, you recommend yourself for higher tasks. And even if that's not your goal: You will find more satisfaction in your tasks, reduce the pressure on yourself and have more fun as a product manager again. I guarantee that!

This is how product managers define their own role

Product managers should approach the definition of their own role from two sides. On the one hand, you have to talk to your bosses and management, learn to understand their point of view and expectations. Even if their understanding is “wrong”, it is they who ultimately judge you and decide whether or not you have succeeded.

On the other hand, you should deal with what constitutes good product management, what the most important levers and tasks that are critical to success are. Describes the ideal product management for your company, with your own role and the roles of the other participants. This task plays an important part in my product management training. I developed the role-gap analysis tool specifically for this purpose.

With your own definition - and good, demonstrable arguments - you go back to management. Develop a plan on how you can put your changed understanding of roles into practice. With the necessary support from management, you will soon be able to live your new role and achieve your goals that you now see clearly in front of you.