When the Product Manager is no longer really a Product Manager

When a new game changing feature is introduced, a Product Manager Owner – true to one’s role, does not draw lines limiting responsibilities, owns all the aspects of the feature from operations to user experience to go-to-market. The Owner comes up with the metrics that needs to be measured, works closely with all the departments like the master of an orchestra to ensure that the feature delights the customer and meets business objectives. This will usually take several iterations, pivots based on learning from experiments and sometimes operational changes for the product to gather critical mass and reach a cruising altitude. What happens next usually is that this Product Owner sub-consciously transitions into Product Manager – continuing to manage every nitty-gritty of the feature in a typical run-the-business sort of operation; nothing wrong – perfectly fine. This sub-conscious operation leads to most often playing the roles of Program Manager or an Engineering Manager or an Operations Manager. Organizations can often fail to take cognizance of such a situation and any such protracted scenario can lead to:

  • Professional staffing ignored: Product Manager operating in roles which require specialized skill-set to maximize efficiency can reduce overall efficiency. For example a skilled project manager brings his expertise in efficient resource utilization and a product manager really may not be able to concentrate on that aspect they way it should be done.
  • Reduced strategic thinking: The Product Manager is bogged down by issues that needs to be solved to run the business that he stops thinking strategically from a product’s road map perspective. A product stagnates. Crossing the chasm after a long period gets tougher and interventions become painful.
  • A rock-star Product Manager does not remain one

What should be done ideally?

  • A product manager (ideally the director of product management) should identify when the product’s/feature’s gestation period ends and requires product management not to hang-on to things which are not typically functions of product management. This requires structural changes in the organization and establishment of matrix structures to function effectively
  • The product manager should define process and the corresponding operational metrics required for healthy functioning of the feature and help in setting up specialized teams for the purpose before abdicating some roles which he used to play


There is another school of thought that Product Managers have to be jack of all trades. Definitely, yes. It is needed during gestation period and perhaps during formative years of the product.

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