Product ManagementRivi

Product Management vs. Systems Analysis

By Rivi Aspler

It still surprises me that people confuse system analysis with product management.

Surprise is one thing, totally harmless. The risky thing is hiring a systems analyst when you actually need a product manager and then being surprised with a failure product.

This post offers 2 main questions that can assist you in understanding what does your product mostly need, a System Analyst or a Product Manager.

The most important question, in my mind, is:

Are you developing an off-the-shelf product, or are you customizing a system to fully match specific customers’ requirements.

  • A system analyst analyzes the specific requirements of known customers and designs a system that fully matches their requirements.
  • A product manager analyzes the requirements of several target customers (B2B) or usage statistics of a population of customers (B2C) and suggests a features set that meets the target market needs.

This may not seem like much of a difference, but a systems analyst is committed to a specific customer; as opposed to a product manager that is committed to an target market, i.e. can in-fact disappoint a specific customer whose needs are not fully met.

Next question is the following:

Are you investing R&D effort in creating a product based on key differentiators?

Clinging to one of the bests, Henry Ford’s famous quote is most relevant here,

“If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.”

If your product is mature enough (the ‘Milk It’ phase of the Product Life-Cycle) and your product investment has gone down to a minimum, or if you are in the business of selling customized developments, you do not need a product manager. A systems analyst would do a much better job.

If your product has not yet reached full maturity or if you are in the business of selling an off-the-shelf product, you better hire a good product manager that can analyze market trends and competitive offerings so that your product has enough “car-quality” features, when all the others are still selling horses….

Making a long story short, the attached table can assist you in understanding your main skill-set (whether you are a product manager or a system analyst) or what position should you fill in if you are the hiring manager.


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About the author

Rivi is a product manager with over 15 years of product life-cycle management experience, at enterprise sized companies (SAP), as well as with small to medium-sized companies. Practicing product management for years, Rivi now feels she has amassed thoughts and experiences that are worth sharing.