• Ashley Bass

What IS a Product Manager, anyway?

Updated: May 27, 2020

This week (Thursday, Nov 21st to be exact!) I am running a session at the Signal Tech Careers Pizza Night. You can check it out at Prepping for this session gave me a reason to stop and think about what a PM is, why PMs are important, and all the things I have done and learned as a Product Manager over the years.

I actually think often (too often??) about what it means to be a PM. That's because I am one, and I'm developing a team of Product Managers and PM practices as the Head of Product at Jade Software. So I spend a lot of my week considering how my team, my profession, and I personally can add value to the business. Adding value ranges from making product decisions to introducing new practices that engage stakeholders across the business to drive product success. Also, I've been developing and delivering product-focused training courses with my partner-in-crime and fellow PM-enthusiast, Tas, and we've been really busy lately, which means I am writing and presenting and thinking about the PM discipline.

For my session at Signal, I needed to break down the key elements of product management and the PM career into just a few interesting slides. I also wanted to choose hands-on activities that are a quintessential part of the product manager day job, so the group can get a taste of what we really do. Talk about using prioritization skills! Here's what I came up with as the best way to provide a (very) short and (hopefully very) sweet experience of product management:

First: I have to lead with the craziest things I have done in my career as a PM. For example: creating a data viz of a dead goldfish; delivering an unplanned live demo to a group of Korean librarians in an underground casino; crying at a German User Group; producing a keynote session for an audience of 14K+ people. Because it's a great representation of the variety you might experience in the role, and it's just plain entertaining.

Next: I have chosen to talk a little bit about the history of Product Management and a lot about the key skills and mindsets of a PM. For example, I'm using the diagram below to talk about the Product Mindset. Again, the key takeaway is that there's a ton of variety and a lot of opportunity to learn and apply excellence in both strategy and execution as a PM.

And last but not least: We'll spend time on a Product Canvas, a customer interview, and some feature prioritization as a hands-on group activity. I chose these specific activities because they are a quintessential representation of (again) the variety of the role, the focus on both execution and strategy, and the importance of being able to balance thinking about market opportunity with infusing your product with the voice of the customer while make practical decisions under pressure. What's more PM than that?!

It's a lot to talk about and a lot to take in in a short amount of time, but with some good planning and great meeting facilitation, I'm sure I can make it work. Good thing I have lots of practice at those things as a PM as well :-)

If you're interested in learning more about what product management is and can't attend my session, feel free to get in touch with me via an interest form and this website. Apparently, I love to talk about product management, and I'm definitely into helping others grow in the discipline and apply the fundamentals of the practice to improve their business.

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