Wow. I’m Mr. Manager!

November 9, 2009 at 11:51 AM | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Management might seem like a boring idea to those who have an Office-Space-esque perception of the position; fortunately, product management, at least in the way that many software companies define it, isn’t totally about about asking people to come in on Saturday (or move down to Storage B).

The precise definition of a product manager, or PM, changes a little from company to company, but the basic idea is this: while software developers take difficult problems and find creative solutions, PMs take a step back and determine what the problems actually are and why they’re a problem, then work with people to design or improve the product.   Teams discover problems by analyzing a product’s place in the market, conducting software tests or user tests, and identifying gaps in a product’s features or functionality.  They address problems by modifying the code itself, changing the interface, building new features, and marketing the product.  Obviously, taking care of all of these aspects requires a few different specialists (UI designers, developers, testers, and marketers, to name a few), and PMs are tasked with coordinating communication inside of the team and picking up any slack.

Product management is about working with people to solve technical challenges.  You may think of management as unappealingly top-down, but team hierarchy in many software companies is much flatter.  A PM’s job is less about telling people what to do and more about working alongside them to fill in gaps and keep the project on track.  That means that if something needs to be coded, a PM might step in and write some code.  They might mockup an interface or perform user tests, or decide on what features to implement next – essentially, they look ahead and make whatever needs to happen happen.

Most of these tasks require a solid knowledge of computer science, which is why companies prefer – or require – that PMs have a degree in computer science or computer engineering.  Google’s Marissa Mayer is a great example of a product manager (with an awesome job).

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