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The Product Management blogosphere has been atwitter, and a-Twitter, with the question of the best metaphor for the role of product management. Is a PM the captain of a product as Christopher Cummings suggests? Or, going back to the old tropes, should we think of them as mini-CEOs of their products (one is always tempted to believe the Cranky Product Manager, isn’t one)? Or are they cat herders – and does that explain anything? In any case, Saeed wants to make sure we don’t undermine ourselves with unsavory metaphors like “glue” and “grease.”
Product management is a complicated and multi-faceted activity, and each of these concepts offer useful guidelines as we strive to create successful and useful products that kick ass. But there are several other characterizations I’ve found helpful over the years both to understand what I do, and to explain it to others. Since they’re not common, I would like to share them (over several posts):
One aspect of the product manager role is to do impedance matching.
From Wikipedia: The term ‘impedance’ means the resistance of a system to an energy source. For constant signals, this resistance can also be constant. For varying signals, it usually changes with frequency.
Impedance is an unfamiliar concept if you’re not an electrical engineer or a ham radio operator (I was KA6HAJ). But it basically means the resistance of a medium to information transmission, usually between components of different types. I think we can all agree that customers and developers are “different types” – and there’s naturally a communication barrier.
The product manager’s job is to bridge that barrier. In the language of electronics, the product manager is a type of transformer.
Wikipedia again: … [transformers are] used extensively in modern communications, particularly in frequency conversion mixers to make cellular phone and data transmission networks possible.
The product manager takes the signal from the market – needs, desires, complaints, misunderstandings – and transforms it into a signal that the engineering organization understands – requirements, specifications, defects, enhancement requests, and so on. Likewise, the product manager takes the signal from the engineering organization – a product with features – and transforms it into a signal for the market such as a value proposition, a set of benefits, and talking points.
Of course, like all the metaphors for product management, the transformer can only be taken so far: A transformer is a linear device, so the outputs are directly related to the inputs. A good product manager, however, will transform the inputs in non-linear ways – thinking outside the box to take the product to the next level.
In my next post I’ll talk about the “highest cause” of the product manager:
As an employee, at a high level your highest cause can be yourself, the company, your fellow employees, your customers, or the product. Obviously, the highest cause of senior executives is – or should be – the company. The highest cause of the support organization and usually the services organization is the customer. Of course, by focusing on the success of the company, the executives also work to the benefit of themselves, the other employees, the customers and the product. And likewise, by focusing on the success of the customer, the service and support orgs benefit the company, their fellow employees, and the product.
The highest cause of the product manager, in contrast, is the product.
Do you agree or disagree with these characterizations of product managers? Let me know in the comments.