Perspectives

What We Talk About When We Talk About Product Management

Ask a dozen product managers exactly what they do for a living and you might get a dozen different answers. Truth is, while plenty have certainly tried, there is no standardized definition for the role that reliably, convincingly, predictably shows up in the daily practice of the craft.

Company by company, product by product, the mandate tends to vary, in breadth and in depth, in practice and in rhythm, to say nothing of authority and influence. For one company, product management responsibilities include UX, design and even engineering. For another, it looks a whole lot more like requirements management–or, gasp, project management.

In fact, that product management is sometimes referred to as a craft may be the point itself. A craft is an activity involving skills in making things by hand. In craft, there are rarely bright lines and hard boundaries. Craft is a combination of skill, dedication, and passion, head and heart working together toward the goal of yielding some sort of creative output whose origins are often elusive.

I’ll admit that there’s a chance I’m taking this comparison a bit too far in suggesting that the practice of product management is somehow as mysterious a gestalt as the practice of making art. But there are worthy similarities. Each is about breaking new ground in some large or small way. Each shares the goal of stimulating an emotional reaction, creating an emotional connection of sorts, with other human beings. Art may be more mysterious and amorphous than product craft, but the disciplines have similarities in both origin and purpose.  

Which begs the question: What are we talking about when we talk about product management? Ben Horowitz popularized the widely used, now axiomatic, answer to this vexing question: product managers are the CEO of the product. The attributes of the best product leaders may be similar to the best CEOs, but few product leaders have anything approaching the same juice. Product managers generally lead through influence, not authority. Like most axioms, this particular Horowitzism is handy enough for a cocktail party and innocuous enough as a motivating sentiment for inspiring career growth, but it stops short of full explanation.

In fact, anything resembling a full summary explanation of product management tends to feel a bit inauthentic or incomplete, the reductive and hollow sentiments of clickbait and listicles. Instead of offering more of the same, with this site, we want to initiate an ongoing dialogue to explore what it means to be a product leader. That’s the goal of ProductCraft–an exploration of the art and science, the head and the heart, of the practice we love. Here, you’ll find perspectives and observations; tips and tricks; debates and dialogues. What you certainly won’t find is a commercial pitch. And, we hope, we’ll make good on our goal of delivering something fresh and new, not just more of the same.

We’re passionate about product. If you’re reading this, chances are so are you. With ProductCraft, our goal is to celebrate the craft and elevate the product management discourse to inspire understanding, growth, and change. Please let us know where we are and aren’t hitting the mark. We hope you’ll hold us accountable as we build this community together.

We welcome your comments and suggestions. We also welcome your (thoughtful, well-crafted, strictly non-promotional) contributions. Please send your abstracts, ideas and links to your writing samples to contribute@productcraft.com

About the Author

Jake Sorofman is CMO of Pendo. Most recently, he spent five years as a VP and chief of research at Gartner, Inc., before returning to his startup roots. His writing has appeared in Harvard Business Review, Forbes, CMO.com and other business and industry publications. Follow him on Twitter @jakesorofman