Breakthrough In Solving The Problem Of How To Evaluate A Product Manager

Oh do I have a tasty dilemma for you this time around! I’ve been working with one of my clients who is setting up a brand new product management department. He’s faced with a challenge that you’d think would be more common than it appears to be: just how should you evaluate the job that a product manager is doing?

Product Managers Are Not Project Managers

The newly minted manager of product managers was struggling. It was the beginning of the year and one of the things that he had to do on his list of tasks was to set up annual goals for his team.

This manager was coming from a project management background. In his first pass at creating goals for his team this training really came across: all of the goals had to do with meeting dates. Clearly there’s more to being a product manager than this.

He was facing a revolt from his p-management team when I was brought in to see if I could broker a solution to this problem. The manager had a valid need to be able to manage his p-managers, but they also had a reasonable expectation that they would be measured based on what a product manager does, not on what a project manager does.

Say Hello To The Puppet Master

I stated out by having a talk with the manager who was trying to come up with the goals. It turned out that he really didn’t have a clear understanding of what product managers do. In a nutshell, he viewed p-managers as sort of a “super project manager”. The only problem with this is that the company had project managers who worked on every product’s team. Clearly there had to be something different in what these two groups of employees were doing.

I then took some time and met with the p-managers themselves. It turns out that they were all busy doing exactly what you would expect a product manager to be doing: studying markets, guiding product developers, and putting out fires.

After having collected all of the available information, I brought the manager and his team back together. I started this meeting out by taking the time to explain to the manager the role that product managers played in his company.

Right or wrong, I used the analogy of a puppet master (you know, those old-time puppeteers who controlled the puppets by pulling on strings connected to their hands and feet). I pointed out to him that the role of the p-manager was not so much to do things, but rather to make sure that things got done. P-managers are like information hubs. They ensure that the right information gets to the right person at the right time so that they can accomplish a task.

The difference between a p-manager and a project manager can be murky at times. However, I pointed out that if the p-manager told the project manager to build a 3-wheeled car, the project manager would make sure that the car got built on time and on budget. However, when the car flopped in the marketplace, it would be the p-manager’s fault because he had said that a 3-wheeled car was what the world needed.

A New Way To Evaluate Product Managers

What was needed here was a new way to evaluate product managers. Others have discussed this topic and they’ve focused on getting the product’s requirements correct. I think that this is important; however, the p-manager’s job does not end there.

What I told the manager and his team was that a much better way to evaluate product managers is to focus on the four areas that a product manager actually controls. These all have to do with the up-front work of determining what product to create, creating the product, and then ensuring that the product is a success once it’s been made.

The four areas include: knowledge of the market, providing a well understood business strategy, empowering the company with product tactics, and directing the creation of product related content. Each one of these areas has plenty of room for individual performance metrics to be created that can be used to evaluate how well a p-manager is doing his / her job.

What All Of This Means For You

P-managers, just like every other employee in a company, need to be evaluated in order to determine if they are doing a good job. The problem is that nobody really seems to have come up with a good way of doing this.

P-managers are not project managers. This means that the traditional management metrics of delivering a product on a given date and keeping it on budget, don’t really seem to apply to p-managers.

What a p-manager does is pretty much all “behind the scenes”. We deal in relationships as we get people to do different things at different times. We are an information hub that provides the right information to the right people at the right time.

A much better way to evaluate product managers is to focus on the four areas that a p-manager actually controls: knowledge of the market, providing a well understood business strategy, empowering the company with product tactics, and directing the creation of product related content.

The performance of a p-manager can be measured. However, you need to be very careful to do it in terms of what a product manager does, not what a project manager does. Once you establish the proper metrics to measure your p-manager by, you’ll be able to determine just how successful your products are going to be.

Dr. Jim Anderson

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