CrankyPMDevelopmentGoogleMarketingMicrosoftProduct ManagementProject ManagementSaeed

What’s in a name? A PM by any other name…

The Cranky PM has gotten herself into a big snit over a Business Week article about a day in the life of a “Product Manager” at Microsoft. Among other things, the PM, Scott Buchanan, a recent grad of the Kellogg MBA Program, says that he’s “not technical“, and that it took him “30 minutes just to find the latch” to open his laptop. He also describes his role as “all about unlocking the value” in MS products, specifically Office which is his area of responsibility. He states:

My job is to develop strategies and tools that make the job of deploying and adopting our software as clear, simple, and inexpensive as possible.

Cranky takes this poor soul to task, decrying at the end of her post “They call this guy a Product Manager?“:

The Cranky Product Manager calls bullshit. This guy is in post-sales, not PM. What, do they give out Product Manager titles like they are soy sauce packets in Redmond? To fist-pumping morons who can’t even open their laptops? Something tells me he wouldn’t make it through the Google interview process…

So a couple of things. While the CPM has the right (in fact an obligation given her persona) to be Cranky — she once wrote on this very blog — “the CPM’s blog is ‘The CRANKY Product Manager’, not the ‘I-Love-Everyone-And-Everything Product Manager.’ — this time, it’s not really warranted.

As some of the comments by readers of her post have stated, Product Management at Microsoft is really more outbound and marketing focussed. In fact, Microsoft defines Product Management on their website:

As a Product Manager, you have the freedom to run your own business and the resources to make a global impact. The ideal candidate possesses excellent marketing and business analysis skills, well-developed strategic thinking, and the ability to communicate and coordinate with a variety of product development, marketing, sales, and business development teams.

Note the complete lack of any need for “technical” skills.

Now contrast this to Program Management at Microsoft, which is probably more like what Cranky views a Product Manager should be:

Program managers are customer focused, working to ensure that the products Microsoft produces will delight users and enable them to do their best. Program management is also an opportunity to flex technical muscles: your technical decisions and direction are what drive products and features through to completion.

Note that they are “customer focused”, and their work and products should “delight customers”. Seems more like the traditional Product Management role, though more technically focused than in some companies. I think that MS’s Program Managers are really Technical Product Managers, and their Product Managers are more like Product Marketing Managers (in my view of what TPMs and PMMs do).

Regardless of the names, Microsoft has defined and used these roles for many years in their organization. Google, as another example, has a different view of the PM role.

In the end, unlike in the movie Highlander, there can never “be only one” definition of a product manager in a technology company. Some will be more business focused, some more technical. The objective for the larger PM community is to ensure that the business community understands the role and value of the Product Management function and for us to continue to define and hone our profession.

On that note, take a look at this series of articles that I wrote on the subject, and Adam Bullied’s post entitled “The Product Management Manifesto“.


P.S. Oh yeah, please vote for us on the ComputerWeekly IT Blog awards.

  1. Steve Johnson

    Sorry, Saeed, no one in a product role of any kind should be a complete idiot. I know “It took 30 minutes to open a laptop” was supposed to be a joke but it just makes this guy look pathetic.

    When a company splits the role in two (program and product management at Microsoft, product manager and product marketing virtually everywhere else), it is important for both roles to know the product. I have worked with great product marketing people but alas, I have also worked with product marketing people who don’t see the need to know the product. They talk campaigns and buzz and spin but can’t explain how the product solves problems for people.

    Here’s a rule: If you have ‘product’ in your title, you have to know a product.

  2. PM Hut

    I’m sure this whole 30 minute thing to find the latch was just a huge exaggeration to describe how non-technical the guy is.

    I don’t think that the Product (manager or marketing manager) needs to know all the technicalities of a certain product, just the high level stuff.

  3. saeed


    I think the “30 minutes to open the laptop” was simply a bit of self-deprecating humour to underscore the point. Nowhere in the post — at least the free portion that I read — does it say he doesn’t know the product. Given that his product is Office, I’m pretty certain he knows the product well enough to talk about it, it’s benefits etc.

    Given the size of a company like Microsoft and certainly the size and scope of a product like Office, I’m pretty sure there are several strata of people like Scott who have different levels of ownership of “the Product”.


  4. Shaun Connolly

    First, we have to let CrankyPM be CrankyPM (i.e. the Fake Steve Jobs of Product Management).

    Second, and maybe Steve Johnson can help with this, there used to be a version of the Pragmatic Marketing Framework (http://www.pragmaticmarketing.com/pragmatic-marketing-framework) that highlighted the areas of the framework that were typically considered Program Management vs. Technical Product Management vs. Product Marketing. This version was useful at larger companies.

    Whenever I see debate over the definition of Product Management, I usually point people to the Pragmatic Marketing Framework and then advise them to spend a little time figuring out who (or which role) drives each of the boxes. Every company is a little different…some require very technical PM’s while others are fine with high-level thinkers.

    At every company I’ve worked since the Framework’s been created, I’ve devoted a little time mapping out who covers the various elements of the framework. I’ve done this at companies that varied in size between 10 people and 150,000 people. It’s pretty easy for small companies…and an interesting, and important, exercise in very large companies. For example, it can shed light on where the gaps are in the process/organization.

    Hmmm….maybe I’ll write a post about this very topic.

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