At my last gig, because the team was small, I filled in gaps in management wherever it was needed.
(By the way, how do you like my blurry stock photo? hah!)
The team has grown a ton since, but at our beginnings, we were a bootstrapped group of highly motivated individuals. We all had to wear a lot of hats to make sure our early design consulting projects were planned and executed accordingly.
Our user-centered design "department" of four were doing all the market research, scheduling and running patient and healthcare provider interviews for our design research, scheduling phone calls with healthcare providers, booking rooms, visiting primary care clinics, running meetings, writing reports, giving presentations, you name it. We pulled long hours and ran just like a startup. Made me thankful for all the insane amount of time and project management training I had running numerous projects in the lab.
With time we all settled into our own. I developed stronger expertise in user research, design strategy, and product-thinking muscles in addition to the functional management responsibilities. However, even with our individual expertise, certain projects lacked centralized, informed decision making. We needed one person to make critical design decisions, explain user needs over and over, be responsible for communicating progress made by the designers, developers, protocol writers, and clinical trials coordinators to our stakeholders. We needed to understand the client's business goals and strategize how analytics were going to make version 2.0 better. Being a scientist, I had the knowledge expertise for that project (chronic disease management - type 2 diabetes), so I stepped in to fill those needs.
The PM role fit like a glove, and I never looked back.
Fast-forwarding a couple years later, after getting my feet wet in the product space, I began to explore the next steps in my career, outside academic research. I reviewed NUMEROUS job postings to get a better grasp of how my skills fit the job postings. I noticed how common some responsibilities were across jobs.
It was striking to me is how varied the responsibilities are for someone with the title of "Product Manager." Each job description for PM varied by A LOT, much more so than any project manager posting. Besides all the typical PM jargon like "voice of customer and feature roadmaps" I also read "pricing strategy" and "comfortable with Ruby, JSON, FHIR, HTML." So I thought to myself. "They want the PM to know it all and do it all. Sounds near impossible, but I get why."
Let's take a step back for a moment. For those looking to get into the PM space, it's important to understand the different roles and how you may need to fulfill needs that are not in your job description.
Here's something to get you started:
Project Management: setting timelines, budgets, managing client expectations (lots of phone calls, usually), setting meeting agendas, mitigating risk, delegating tasks
Program Management: delivering internal strategy, implementing pre-defined and interrelated projects, creating and running training programs
Marketing Management (and Sales): collecting, reviewing, and acting on user opinions and preferences, translating and communicating product value to customers
Product Management: collecting, championing, and delivering on user needs, guiding design and development, feature roadmaps, metrics and analytics, input on business strategy
It is always the PM's responsibility to create valuable, usable, and feasible products within numerous constraints. If you want to be a fantastic PM, you're going to look for ways to get really good at ALL OF THE ABOVE. At the very least, learn their language so that you can communicate and learn their priorities (hm, maybe I'll write a future blog post on that).
A great PM will do whatever it takes to ship a fantastic product on time and on budget, they will do whatever is needed to lower barriers and smooth things over. It might require data crunching. It might require strong negotiation skills. It'll be your job to make the product the best it can be, this might be doing something as simple as booking a room, or coffee delivery service.
Are your PM responsibilities clear cut? or are your responsibilities more fluid? I'd love to hear your experiences!