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.
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