Product Management – Like People Management, But Not
Without question, product management is like trying to rapidly assemble a jigsaw puzzle in half hour increments. It combines the 30,000 foot view of strategic planning with the daily, firefighting, tactical activities of an entry level position that often leaves you wondering “why the hell am I still doing this 7 years into my career”. The answer? Because it’s rewarding, challenging, and different.
I’m Alex Lockwood, a proud UW-Madison alum and a Senior Product Manager for an innovative medical device company located in Neenah, WI. My job title tells me that I’m responsible for the commercial activities for a family of products. My day to day activity describes something completely different.
Product Management is typically defined as a marketing function on a corporate organization chart. The reality is that it is a cross-functional role that requires the Product Manager to advocate for and coordinate activities across all departments of the company. As a Product Manager, you are responsible for all of the decisions for you product line; everything from pricing, new product development, quality and value improvement projects, sales channel, and everyone’s favorite, promotional strategy. You are at the helm of the ship and if your organization values personal autonomy as much as mine does, you’re the captain.
In order to build a good strategic plan, you must understand the customer. Knowing the opinion of the customer is at the core of every good Product Manager (and good marketer), and can be one of the most enjoyable aspects of the job. Especially in the healthcare sector. Understanding the needs and preferences of your customer is the key to a successful plan. But the kicker with product management is that once you build that excellent plan, guess who gets to execute it?
That’s where product management becomes so much more than marketing. Its leadership, persuasion, focus, and execution. All without having direct authority over other functions of the business that have direct impact on the performance of your product line. Your plan has to jive with operations, manufacturing, engineering, quality, legal, sales, and the dreaded regulatory affairs. Compound all of these factors if your product line has a global presence (oiy). A good Product Manager takes customer needs, builds a plan to meet them, and then inspires the entire organization to deliver results against that plan.
To be a good Product Manager, daily productivity is a must. Each individual day is going to vary widely in activity, but there are a few things that must happen.
- Read about your industry – this relates back to the customer voice. You have to know about what is going on with your customers and your competitors.
- Understand the state of your product line – most Product Managers will have daily reports that give a snapshot of inventory, open sales orders, backorders, etc. Make sure you know what is normal, what is abnormal, and what constitutes a problem.
- Check your project plans – each day you should be looking at the plans for your big projects and understand what the next steps are. You should try to carve out at least 20% of your day to work on the next steps for your projects. If deadlines are near, make sure you prioritize and this becomes a bigger chunk of the day.
- Some projects may include:
- Rep or customer training programs
- Research projects
- Some projects may include:
- New product launches
- Tradeshow materials
- Promotional campaigns
- New selling tools
- Fight fires – there will always be an emergency in some aspect of your business, whether it’s a backorder, quality complaint, an emergency question from a customer, or a last second presentation request from the executive board. Though these may seem like other people’s problems, you are often the only one with the answer. And remember, what goes around comes around. You will need help from these functions frequently.
- Attend your meetings – without a doubt you will be pulled into many a meeting, and it only gets worse as you move up. Some of these meetings, if they are organized properly, are productive and require your participation. You will find that other meetings are non-productive. That’s a separate topic, but something to always watch out for when you schedule your own meetings with other functions.
If you’re looking for a career that is going to challenge you daily, expose you to multiple organizational departments, and give you autonomy to make decisions and take ownership then product management is a good place to land. I’m particularly biased toward healthcare, but I’m confident that no matter the business sector there can never be enough product management talent in an organization. If you have any specific questions about the career path or the healthcare industry feel free to find me on LinkedIn. Best of luck!