Do you ever struggle to explain to colleagues what product management does?

If so, here’s a simple model that can help.

Essentially product management is about “the what”.

What product should we build? What is the proposition? What market segments are we targeting?

Development, Marketing, and Sales are the key teams product management works with.

If product management is about “the what”, they are about “the how”.

Product management knows what needs to be built (the requirements) but Development are the experts on how best to build the product.

Product management knows the details of the product that needs to be communicated to the market. But Marketing (or more specifically the bit that deals with market communications) knows how best to market it. They know which promotional approaches work best, which exhibitions to go to and how to get the most from social media.

flow chart showing the what and how of product management, how = development, marketing and sales


Product management decides on the target segments and key messages for the product but the sales channels know how best to sell it. Salespeople have the skills needed to build a relationship with customers and close the deal. Re-sellers know how best to sell to their channel.

Of course, it’s never that simple…

The boundary between ‘what’ and ‘how’ is a matter of perception. Is a screen design ‘what’ the user wants to see or part of ‘how’ a feature is designed.

Doing some product testing, helping Sales close a key deal and supporting a marketing event might be considered part of the ‘how’ but are also important parts of the product management role.

And sometimes it’s difficult not to stray into the how. If you’ve recently moved into product management from Development it’s very hard to let go of trying to design the solution.

Finally, product management is about getting things done. This can only be achieved by working closely with colleagues. Discussing technical options with Development to tweak the ‘what’ so it can actually be delivered is the type of collaboration that’s needed with each area. The mindset should be ‘we‘ not ‘us and them‘.

As a product manager, you do want Sales, Marketing and Development input into what the product should do. Their insights, ideas, and expertise are invaluable.

However, these and other inputs help you make the rounded, objective and balanced view on what’s best for the business. The final decision on ‘the what’ has to be with product management.

Ian Lunn
Director, Product Focus

Share this page

Join the conversation - 5 replies


When it comes to requirements documents, I completely agree. We should be talking about what the product should do and not how it should be made. Capabilities and not platforms.
But what about the how products should be priced? How they should be positioned? How they should be taken to market and through what channels they should be promoted?
I enjoy making descriptions simple but am wary about being simplistic. If we just talk about the ‘what’, do you think we are short-changing ourselves? Potentially missing the bigger picture of the scope of product management by confining the discussion to technical product management?


Thanks Rick – trying to keep things simple always risks being too simplistic and I take your points.

They are similar to a comment I had by email from Tim (Director at ThinkDesignDeliver).

Tim said “Yes I like the simplicity, but I would also add a ‘Why’ to the ‘What’, as I think the justification is central to the role. Maybe it’s implicit in the ‘What’ but I think it should be explicit.”


I agree with Ian’s point on clarifying the ‘why’ behind the what. The ‘why’ defines the common purpose for the entire team. They ‘why’ should relate back to what the original problem is about and why they are hiring the ‘what’ (product/capability) to solve that.


Yes Sudhi, I definitely agree with you and Ian about the preference of ‘why’ for ‘what’. The why justifies the how and explains the what. I’ve always used such sequence in every team problem that I experience within my ICT team.


Great post! Nice thoughts that I can share for my ICT team. For now, our focus of investment is to maintain the online platform we currently are using with Parcus Group which is making great progress to our product management, development and lifecycle process.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *