The Product Manager vs. the IT Manager
June 2, 2020

The Product Manager vs. the IT Manager

by Brian de Haaff

What comes to mind when you think of IT? A few years ago, you might say the person or department you call when your computer is not working or the internet is down. But today that description feels wildly outdated. Modern IT teams are building and maintaining sophisticated systems and services that generate real value for organizations.

These forward-thinking IT teams are adopting a product mindset to bring enterprise solutions to life.

Historically, IT managers were primarily responsible for system architecture and troubleshooting technology problems within the organization. Work was project based and reactive. But as enterprise technology has evolved, so too has the role of IT. Now it involves everything from building advanced internal applications to identifying and implementing third-party tools that help an organization work smarter and achieve its goals.

This shift requires a deep understanding of what internal users want to achieve from these tools and how technology will help organizations achieve business objectives. Sounds a lot like product management, right? And that is why you see product managers (or IT managers doing product-focused work) in IT orgs right now.

Building systems that profoundly impact the day-to-day work of nearly everyone within an organization is a big responsibility.

The underlying systems and tools that power teams is part of what drives the success of the company as a whole. Here is a look at how many IT managers are now behaving more like product managers to implement and manage enterprise technology:

Expertise

Then: Technology
IT managers focused on understanding the inner workings of the company's hardware and software products. They knew how to keep systems running smoothly and how technology could help the organization work more efficiently. Many IT managers even had a programing or engineering background.

Now: Solutions that drive innovation
These folks are still technical experts, but they are also skilled at identifying opportunities for organizations to drive business growth through the use of technology. They bring a product-centric approach to IT, which means they deeply understand the pain points of users. And they know how to prioritize features and requests that go beyond these basic needs and power innovation across the organization.

Planning

Then: Guided by capabilities
IT managers set high-level plans that were focused on what the technology could do. They evaluated and determined which systems an organization would build or implement based on the technology's capabilities. Tactical roadmaps visualized what technology solutions would be implemented and when. Typically, these plans did not link technology to business strategy.

Now: Guided by business strategy
Plans are rooted in overall business strategy. IT managers set goals and identify the initiatives or areas of technology investment needed to achieve critical company objectives. When planning for specific products or tools, IT managers take a user-centric approach and crowdsource improvements internally — similar to their colleagues in product management.

Responsibilities

Then: Keeping systems operating
IT managers were responsible for supporting all things technical. They managed incoming troubleshooting requests and oversaw the team that addressed those issues. Additionally, they monitored how well the organization's technology was operating, looking for signs that a system may need to be updated, phased out, or replaced. And they were always researching and vetting potential vendors that might replace homegrown tools.

Now: Keeping the business productive and powering growth
IT managers must balance those responsibilities with the work required to help the business succeed. They ensure that technologies not only operate smoothly, but that they also drive business productivity and growth. Like product managers, IT managers regularly communicate with users to gain feedback on the usefulness of internal tools as well as executive leadership to track how those tools are helping the organization progress towards its goals.

Modern IT managers have embraced product management concepts to stretch the limits of enterprise technology.

Technology transformations are uncharted yet necessary territory for many companies. It takes courage to build something that will have such an extensive organizational impact. And there is something thrilling about it too.

How has IT evolved in your organization?

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Brian de Haaff

About Brian de Haaff

Brian seeks business and wilderness adventure. He is the co-founder and CEO of Aha! — the world’s #1 roadmap software — and the author of the bestseller Lovability. Brian writes and speaks about product and company growth and the adventure of living a meaningful life.

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