Traditionally when I think of the job of the product manager I think of someone who is half marketing and half engineer – someone who is 50% orientated towards business needs and 50% orientated towards technology. People who have this mixture hold a number of different job titles: product manager, product marketing manager, product development manager… and so on. There are many papers and blog post that explain the differences between these job roles and functions e.g. Product Management vs. Product Marketing. From my point of view your job title and function depends a lot on the type of company you are working for and the industry you’re in.
I wrote a blog post a few months ago about Product Management moving into IT/IS departments. This should not come as a surprise since the Product Manager is essentially a bridge between business and market needs and technology – (be it hardware, software or a combination of the two) - and the talented individuals who dedicate their lives researching, designing and building technical products. Many SME and organisations e.g. Banks rely on information technology to gain the competitive advantage, hence the investment in product management to ensure that technology constantly delivers business value and therefore the competitive edge.
Tim O'Reilly states that: "Technology is fundamentally transforming publishing." In the same article entitled Tools for change conference he continues by saying that:
"There is so much that publishers need to know: how to effectively apply new Web 2.0 concepts like harnessing collective intelligence, loosely coupled web services, tag clouds, and mashups; content generation technologies like blogs, wikis, and crowdsourcing; content management systems; production workflows for XML publishing; real time data analysis driving publishing decisions; new presentation layer tools like Ajax (and the latest from Adobe, like Apollo); search engine optimization...."
Taking all this into consideration it’s no wonder that Product Managers have arrived at online media companies, bridging the gap between the publishing business and technology teams. Marie Griffen says in her article Product Managers Arrive that:
“The Internet is a constantly evolving technology, not simply a delivery platform for content in electronic form. It requires the creation of new jobs within media companies, and one area that is on the rise is online product management.”
The article goes on to say that: "At Penton Media, the Product Manager function is well-developed. “Product managers marry market needs with the core competencies in our technology group,” said Prescott Shibles, VP of Penton Media "s new media group.
I’ve been working as a Product Manager for Reed Business Information (the world biggest B2B publishing company) for 3 years – prior to that I had worked for in Project Management and Product Management for two different technology companies who designed and manufactured products for the broadcast industry. Comparing the two different Product Management roles I would say that the technologies, of course, differ. Also in the online world your loyalty is shared between at least 3 different types of customers: the advertiser and/or sponsor, the end user and the search engine/google(bot) as opposed to just a single customer who was generally the end user. Apart from that, the fundamental functional differences in Product Management are minimal. The key differences lie in the area of work flow and processes - however this can also vary between companies with in the same industry.
So if your looking for a challenge and a change in your product management career I would highly recommend transferring your skill set and working for an online media company.
The current transition the publishing world is experiencing is akin to the transition the broadcast industry went through when it moved from analogue to digital or to put it in consumer terms the transition from having limited TV channels with analogue to have unlimited channels with digital TV or the move from vinyl to CD – as with all changes some will embrace while other will get left behind.
Product Management is not just here to stay its growing fast and gaining ground. Where ever there are business problems and commercial needs (be it B2B/B2C online publishing or re- purposing adverts in wide screen format for television or producing films in HD for the cinema) the product managers ultimate goal is to utilize technology to produce products to solve the problems and meet the market needs in a profitable way.