What Is: Product Management

By

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Name: Hunter Walk (@hunterwalk)
Occupation: Former Director of Product Management at Google (previously Director at Linden Lab, New Product Development at Mattel)

1. In 140 characters or less, what is Product Management?

Building. Communicating. Helping. Simplifying. Collaborating. (Sometimes) Crying. Leading.

2. Lets step away from digital for a second. Pretend the product you are producing is a watch. What are the types of questions a product manager would ask? What would some of your responsibilities be?

The goals of Product Management are the same whether you’re shipping websites or watches — it’s helping a team build a product that’s loved by the community.

On day one, I’d ask:

  • What watches are we making today and who’s purchasing them?
  • Who is the customer for this new watch and what are their needs (telling time, fashion, accuracy, reliability/durability, etc.)
  • Is there a cross-functional team already working on this product? If not, let’s develop one.

Some of the product manager’s responsibilities would include:

  • Ensuring everyone working on the project understands who the customer is, and what the product objectives are
  • Making sure the team is properly resourced to achieve its goals. Does every work item have a clear owner?
  • Managing a design and approval process that drives collaboration and cross-functional input, but doesn’t bog down into census-driven groupthink

3. What’s your favorite part about product management?

Spending time with the community. Meeting the people who actually use the product and hearing the good, bad, and ugly from them. Walking through a coffee shop and seeing the product I worked on being enjoyed.

4. How would you explain the difference between project management and product management to a 5 year old?

Project management makes sure the train runs on time. Product management helps design the train.

5. Name some common mishaps that tend to happen when a team is missing a product manager.

  • Team thinks they all share the same vision but actually have very different priorities or viewpoints
  • Products grow overly complex because everyone has a favorite feature and there’s no one to say “no” or “yes, but later”
  • Really talented engineers and designers end up wasting time coordinating with other groups, negotiating with salespeople, etc.

6. What are some of your favorite books, links, resources, for someone interested in getting started in Product Management?

I’m a bit of contrarian here. I don’t think reading is the key, rather it’s conversation and practice. Take your favorite product and blog about how it could be improved. That said, SVPG has some great articles and Quora’s Product Management topic is solid.

7. Any advice for an aspiring product manager?

Find some people and build something. In real companies, you serve as product manager at the behest of the engineers and designers. You have to earn their trust and respect. There’s no way to be a successful product manager without a successful team.

Get started at GA. Learn from top practitioners in our 10-week Product Management course.