What vs How

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”.

What vs 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 works best, which exhibitions to go to and how to get the most from social media.

Product management decide on the target segments and key messages for the product but the sales channels know how best to sell it. Sales people 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 mind set 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

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