What is a Product Services Product Manager?
The blessing and the curse of being a product manager is that the title can mean many different things. If you were to ask 10 different product managers what a product manager does, you would likely get 10 different responses.
At the risk of sounding like Bubba Blue from Forrest Gump, there are marketing product managers, technical product managers, business product managers, digital product managers, sales product managers, lead product managers, senior product managers…the list goes on and on.
All of these product managers tend to have one thing in common: they are internal assets for the company or product they are developing/marketing. They have the authority and knowledge to make decisions on strategy, day-to-day operations, and scope.
There is another type of product manager that has been on the rise in the last few years and, in my opinion, is the most misunderstood but critical type of product manager for any outsourced engagement – the product services product manager.
This blog post will hopefully shed some light on what product managers offer in a product services industry.
You might be asking, “What is a product services product manager?” A product services product manager is a product manager that is an external asset for a company. If you’re company X and you outsource development or project management work to company Y, the product manager of company Y is a product services product manager.
Those at company X may initially look at product services product managers as glorified project managers. It is often not until they work more closely with them that they realize the real value they bring. The value is derived from strategizing, developing, and maintaining products from various sectors across several different products and being able to apply/repurpose that knowledge to products in different sectors.
As an externally hired product manager, product services product managers have no authority. They do not own the backlog, do not own the roadmap, do not create the features and functionality, and certainly do not own the P&L. They have no one reporting to them and they only report to the client’s product owner.
So what are a services industry product manager’s responsibilities?
They advise on the backlog, the roadmap, the features and functionality, the releases, etc. Product partners lean on them to provide industry-leading knowledge and expertise. Furthermore, product partners lean on product managers as a proxy in their absence of, in most cases, running their company or division.
It does not always start out that way. That advisement is earned, not given, through knowledge and expertise. Furthermore, the knowledge and expertise of those around them – engineers, designers, and testers – helps the product services product manager provide value to the client.
This trust has to be earned, however. Before product managers become trusted advisors, they are simply vendors hired to express what they think.
A product manager in a product services industry has one main objective, which is to help the product partner get the right product to market efficiently.
At a surface level, it sounds simple to “advise” by expressing one's thoughts; however, in the services industry product managers need to be able to back it up with facts (or in some cases, perceived facts since they do not have access to all facts).
How do product managers do that?
Product managers leverage whatever they can to help their clients see a shared vision. For example: if an issue is centered around scalability, they obtain the data needed from the data architects, review the budget/resources, investigate cascading impacts, apply impacts to the current timelines, synthesize all of the information, and advise clients.
It is not only with scalability that they do this process over and over, but with any issue or unforeseen roadblock. What sets great product managers apart from the rest is that a great product manager’s objective is to leverage knowledge gained from building and releasing several products, in various verticals, and apply it to delivering the best product possible.
This foresight allows product services product managers to obtain something many outsiders to the product company do not receive: trust. This trust opens the door for a truly collaborative and exciting partnership. It is at this point that a product manager’s "two cents" becomes less of an expression of how they think to more of a thought leader, from a trusted advisor.
Great product managers focus on how to ideate, build, market, and release a product. They have expertise that comes from experience and knowledge across all sectors and apply it specifically to each product they help build. That is what makes the best product services product managers different from the many other product managers in the industry. They are product managers/strategists/consultants all in one.