Because product management encompasses a variety of elements, it can be found at multiple levels of development and production, under numerous titles. One survey found as many as 256 unique titles for the role among respondents. Whether you’re looking for work in the field, or wondering if you may already be operating in a related capacity, knowing what they are can be of benefit. Read on to learn a few.
Product Marketing Manager
One of the most closely related positions to product manager (so much so that the titles are often used interchangeably) is product marketing manager. Both indicate a heavy emphasis on the study of market needs.
But as Pragmatic Marketing points out, the key differences are that “typically the title ‘product manager’ is used to signify people who listen to the market and articulate the market problems in the form of requirements. And the title ‘product marketing manager’ is usually assigned to those who take the resulting product to the market by defining a product marketing strategy.”
Essentially, the focus for one is primarily internal, and the other external. And one has an extra ‘M’ in their acronym.
Another Product Management doppelganger is the project manager. Both handle similar aspects of rolling out a product—conception, planning, launch, and delivery.
During a presentation to the Project Management Institute’s Chicago chapter, experts were faced with the task of defining the difference between these roles, and broke it down like this: “Project managers have a defined span of vertical leadership for a specific length of time with a focus on effectively managing the scope, schedule, and cost of the project. While product managers focus on optimizing the VALUE of the effort and lead horizontal activities (e.g. throughout the product management lifecycle).”
It’s the contrast between renting or owning your home—mainly in that, when there’s a breakdown, product managers are in it for the long haul.
IBM lists the following 5 major aspects of Program Management: Governance (definition and oversight of roles), Management (project administration), Financial Management (fiscal practices), Infrastructure (environmental support of the project), and Planning (multi-level activities). Sounds pretty much like product management. The chief distinction is that a program manager typically handles a greater portfolio of projects, across a variety of programs.
Of course, sometimes your handle just isn’t available. Silicon Valley Product Group reports that at Microsoft, “the people that come up with the specs and drive the project schedule are called ‘program managers’ due to the fact that the title ‘product manager’ has already been designated by them for those who manage the project marketing function.” It may be a little confusing for those involved, but considering the program manger’s average salary of $108K, it’s doubtful they get too many complaints in the breakroom suggestion box.
Yes—it’s confusing, at best. But there is one consensus: the title doesn’t matter nearly as much as the work you do. In fact, some people even argue that Titles are just Trophies. If that’s the case, it’s more important than ever to focus on results. Fortunately, that’s just what product managers are here to do—no matter what you call them.
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