Benjamin Franklin famously said that there are only two things certain in life: death and taxes. But you can delay death and avoid taxes — the only thing that truly is certain in this life is change.

This notion is the central ethos of the product management profession.

Product management is built upon the premise that change is the one true constant.

In my view there are 3 key principles:

  1. Continuous delivery — because change is certain and no product will ever be perfect
  2. Aligned to Agile values and principles — a principle within a principle (Woah, inception)
  3. Bring the business, design and tech functions together — one big happy family
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A principle within a principle… what is even real? Photo by Christophe Hautier on Unsplash

The product manager must epitomise these principles and the central ethos that change is a given. They must be the glue that holds the team together, but also ensure the team doesn’t get stuck. Part Pritt-stick, part nail-polish remover. The contradiction of this imagery sums up product management.

What is a product manager responsible for?

These are the four key questions in the product lifecycle. Through these, we can get an insight into the role of the product manager.

Why — Why is your product wished, wanted or needed? Why produce it?

What — What is your product? What does it do?

When — When do you need to develop particular features or experiences?

How — How will you go about delivering these features?

The PM is involved in all four of these questions, to varying degrees.


This will depend on the size of the organisation and seniority of the PM, but the company itself should have in part answered this with its vision. The PM then produces a vision for the product that they manage.


This is wholly the responsibility of the PM and takes the form of the Product Strategy, which will include themes and goals (OKRs or KPIs) for the product. It gives the development team (designers, developers and analysts) clear goals to rally around.


The product manager is kinda-sorta responsible for the when, but unlike traditional (particularly HiPPO) approaches, prioritisation of features is a collaborative task and several methods can be used to determine it.

The reason it’s not so obvious is while a product manager may determine top-level priorities and build a roadmap, it is heavily informed by collaboration with the team and the low-level detail of exactly what happens and when it happens should sit with the development team.

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Beware of the HiPPO! Photo by Stefan Steinbauer on Unsplash


This is not the product manager’s responsibility. They have input, but it is ultimately the responsibility of the development team to determine the best way to do something, based on the previous questions above.

What does a product manager own?

A product manager owns the following:

Vision — What is the ultimate aspiration of the product?

Strategy — What outcomes will enable the end vision?

Roadmap — What themes and features will bring us closer to the vision?

Backlog — What user stories and tasks are required to deliver the roadmap?

Performance — How are the key results and metrics performing against expectations?

Fulfilling these roles requires:

  • Extensive customer, company and competitor research
  • Engagement with other departments to align goals and strategies and inform prioritisation
  • Working daily with the team’s Scrum Master
  • Collaborating with the development team (designers, developers and analysts)

Defining the role of a product manager

I asked 35 people within the world of product management how they would define the role of a product manager in one sentence.

I had a huge variety of responses, but I will now share some of the different viewpoints and determine which fit best with my interpretation of the role.

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Some of the keywords used to describe a product manager in the responses.

I’m sure many of you will see words in there that you agree with. Customer-focussed is the largest for a reason — it had the most mentions. Problem-solver also came up a few times.

The phrase ‘mini CEO’ and ‘CEO of your product’ both came up too. Product managers’ have no inherent authority and must earn respect and the right to convince others. This is why I am not a fan of using the term ‘CEO’ to refer to a product manager.

“A product manager is not a ‘mini CEO’ or the ‘CEO of their product’, as a CEO has inherent power and veto authority, whereas a product manager must earn theirs.”

The themes of definition

Of the 35 people that provided a definition, there were four loose themes that the definitions aligned to. Some definitions were very specific to one and others encompassed multiple themes.

These themes were collaborationstrategycustomer-focus and leadership.

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These are neither mutually exclusive nor are they collectively exhaustive. The amazing thing about product management is that it is so varied and can adapt to the needs of the market, industry, company, team, and even the individual. What this does give you is a reference point for the core definition of a product manager.

To some ‘leadership’ and ‘collaboration’ might seem at odds, but great leaders collaborate. It is no longer acceptable for leaders to tell; they must instead convince. Younger generations will only work for a company if they understand and buy into the company’s mission. Because of this, servant leadership is becoming ever-more present in the workplace. A leader exists to fulfil the mission of the company and provide a product that customers need.

Ken Blanchard is the top dog as far as I’m concerned when it comes to servant leadership, so it’s well worth checking him out if you’re not already familiar with his work and his collab with Simon Sinek, while no Beyonce & Jay-Z collab, is well worth looking up.

Combining the principles and ethos I outlined at the beginning with the definitions provided by the survey, I’ve created my definition of what a product manager must be. It covers all four of the definition themes:

“A product manager must be customer-focussed but pragmatic, a leader that is willing to compromise, a strategist than can see the future and the present, and collaborate with the team but know when to fight for the ‘right’ thing to do.”

How would you define product management? Let me know in the comments!

Lastly, a big thank you to everyone from the Product Coalition Slack, Product School Slack, and BT Digital Team that provided definitions. You’re all awesome.

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