Why Product Management is so misunderstood

I've encountered lots of software startups that want to start up a Product Management function, even though they don't really understand what the Product Management role is or its activities. (I guess that's why they ask for my help).

I've learned this is really common. Software is full of people (especially engineers) who don't really know what Product Management is or have a misperception about it.

Why the lack of common understanding? Here's my take:

  1. Many software folk haven't worked with Product Management before. There are still plenty of software companies that don't have a Product Management function. Most seed-stage startups don't. Nor do many software companies that grew out of professional services, custom IT development, gaming, entertainment, or publishing.

  2. There is a little-known HUGE variance in how the role is defined from company to company within the software industry, even though most people tend to assume everyone does Product Management the same way. Truth is, most people haven't worked with enough companies to see how varied things really are. But let me assure you, even within a tightly defined industry sector, things are extremely varied. I've worked with over two dozen companies and every single one defined the role differently.

  3. Many software folk have not been exposed to "good" Product Management. They've seen PMs who come up with random ideas for features based on gut feel (instead of sourcing or validating them with the market) and then just write some requirements docs and user stories. Throw in a few product demos and some heated debates about the color scheme of icons, and that's what many people think Product Management is.

    In this earlier post, I explain how this limited view of Product Management, although EXTREMELY COMMON, is highly dysfunctional and ineffective. It's missing the CORE activities of gathering market insight and defining product strategy. Without these essential pieces, Product Management becomes disconnected from the market and loses sight of the big picture. In which case, what's the point of even having PM? I suspect you'd be better off using a roulette wheel to decide on product features.

Sue Raisty

Product management geek, born-again engineer, adoptive mother of boys, coach & mentor, mountain trail runner, tinkerer, no-bull communicator, wannabe writer, room mother & compulsive researcher.

Silicon Valley, California http://blog.sueraisty.com