Lead on Purpose

Promoting Leadership Principles in Product Management

Product manager or product maker?

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Titles have a way of morphing over time. In some cases, they improve and become more popular. At times, because of the acts of certain, often high-profile, individuals, titles can lose value.

When you think about the title ‘product manager’ how does it make you feel? Does it still hold the value it had when you first started learning about it? What about when you took your first job as a product manager—do you feel the same today as you did in those first days and weeks?

Product Maker

I’ve spent a lot of time working in and thinking about the role of product manager. It has special meaning for me. When I was in college I decided I wanted to get some technical experience “under my belt” so I took as many CS classes as I could and still finish my accounting/IS program. I spent my first four years writing C++ and Java code. It was during that time I first learned about the role of product manager. This, I decided, was my path back to the “business side” of work. I got my first opportunity, and quickly fell in love with the art and science of product management.

A few years into my career, it became abundantly clear that PMs are responsible for the success of their products, but the kicker…the people they rely on to succeed don’t report to them. They have to lead the teams that do the work, without having managerial responsibility. This realization started me thinking that ‘manager’ might be the wrong term, and it also led me to start the Lead on Purpose blog.

Is ‘manager’ losing steam?

A lot has changed in recent years. The title ‘manager’ or ‘management’ has lost much of its value. Managers are seen as counting value rather than creating value. They keep the trains running on time, but don’t create new routes or new modes of transportation.

The differences between ‘managers’ and ‘leaders’ has come more into the forefront, which has caused me to reflect more on the role of product manager. Perhaps I’m giving too much emphasis to semantics, but it feels like product management has turned into its namesake—‘management’—too much for my comfort. In my consulting work I’m finding that PMs are too often doing process and project work rather than building great new products; perhaps this trend is more prevalent in companies with mature products.

Product maker

What if we turned the tables on the PM role and changed it from ‘product manager’ to ‘product maker.’ What if we focused more on what it takes to launch winning new products, and innovate existing products to do new things for new markets and new customers. What impact would these changes have on your work and your business?

I’m just getting started on this journey of changing the product world from the boring and tired ‘manager’ to the active and optimistic ‘maker.’ I’ve had recent conversations with visionaries and leaders that have stoked my fire. I give credit to Rob Nelson (CEO) and Richard Tripp (CPO) of Grow.com for getting me to think about ‘product maker’ as a new, better title. And I first saw the term product builder—in this context—in an article by Brian de Haaff, CEO of Aha! There are other influencers who are seeing things differently and making changes. It’s a good time to be working with products.

Questions: Are you a product maker? What do you see as the value of a product maker vs. a product manager? Please leave a comment in the space below.

The Product Management Perspective: see above 🙂

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