How to Explain Your Product Management Job (to People Who Do Not Know What Product Management Is)
April 23, 2018

How to Explain Your Product Management Job (to People Who Do Not Know What Product Management Is)

by Melissa Hopkins

Career day at the elementary school. Thirty pairs of little eyes stare up at you. Jacob’s mother just finished telling them all about her life as a firefighter. She even wore her uniform and let the kids try on that bright yellow helmet. Now it is your turn. How do you explain product management to a room of nine-year-olds and keep their attention?

Capturing such a complex role in language simple enough for a curious kid to understand is a tall order — but a great exercise.

The Aha! Customer Success team understands this well. We are all experienced former product managers. So I knew just who to turn to for some help wrangling the complexities of the role into plain speak. I asked the team how they would describe the art of product management. These were my two favorite replies:

“I overheard my daughter tell her friends a couple years ago that a product manager is like a superhero. They find all the problems or challenges in the world and then build solutions to fix them. I thought that was cute.” — Tahlia Sutton

“You know how a 2018 car will have new and better features than the 2017 model? Someone had to make sure the features they add are really what customers want so they will sell lots of cars and customers will love them. I do that, but for software.” — Austin Merritt

The colorful explanations above are great for career day — but what if you need to give an explanation in a professional setting?

Hopefully, your colleagues will have a better grasp on what you do than a nine-year-old does. But distilling your role down to its essence is still worthwhile — especially if your company has not yet defined its product management discipline. It can give you clarity of purpose and help set expectations for roles and responsibilities. After all, product management titles often vary from company to company.

And I know from speaking with our customers that many of you are working to build a product management discipline within your organization. If that is the case, then the entire concept is new to your teammates! You need to share what your role means in clear and easily digestible language.

Here is how you can explain a product management job in the simplest terms:

Expert
Product managers know the most about the market, customers, and product. I am the go-to resource for the rest of the team. We share what we know so they can build what customers need.

Strategy
We work on defining why we are making the products we make. We summarize that research about the market and customers to define something that customers will buy. Then we set goals and plan how we will accomplish them.

Roadmap
We build the product roadmap — a plan that shows what will get built, when it will be done, and how that work will achieve business goals. The roadmap helps communicate the plan to the team so we can work together with trust and confidence.

Customers
We work hard to understand what our customers really want and need. This cannot be done by gazing into a crystal ball. We do this with research, gathering data, and talking to them directly.

Ideas
We get lots of suggestions for what to build next. We determine which ideas we should consider (and in what order) by prioritizing against our overall strategy. Then we work across the entire organization to be sure those ideas are delivered.

Every product management job is different. Defining yours in easy-to-understand language may not be easy but it is well worth the effort.

Doing so sets boundaries and makes it easier to collaborate with your teammates. And it may even inspire a few of those kids to consider a product manager role.

How do you explain your product management job?

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Melissa Hopkins

About Melissa Hopkins

Melissa loves using technology to help people solve their problems. She is the VP of Customer Success at Aha! — the world’s #1 roadmap software. Melissa has more than 20 years of business and software experience. Previously, she managed teams at Citrix [CTXS] across consulting, education, supply chain operations, and IT.

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