What is a product manager?

A product manager is the person who identifies the customer need and the larger business objectives that a product or feature will fulfill, articulates what success looks like for a product, and rallies a team to turn that vision into a reality. After 10 years of studying the craft of product management, I’ve developed a deep understanding of what it means to be a product manager.

The confusion about what a product manager is likely stems from the recency of the role. Where practitioners of more established crafts, like design and engineering, have been able to segment themselves by their specialization, product managers are still defining what the role should be.

Martin Eriksson, product leader extraordinaire and founder of ProductTank, initially summed up product management in a simple Venn diagram that sits the product manager at the intersection of business, technology, and user experience. Fifteen years ago, Ben Horowitz, CEO of Opsware, called the product manager the “CEO of the product.”

I agree with both Eriksson and Horowitz, but not always with how their definitions are interpreted. People see Eriksson’s diagram and think that product managers manage the product between all three disciplines (UX, technology, and business). Really, though, he’s saying product managers need to balance all three needs and make hard decisions and trade-offs. People hear Horowitz’s analogy and think product managers have some kind of special authority. They don’t. But, like a CEO, product managers set the goals, define success, help motivate teams, and are responsible for the outcome.

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