The Definition Of Product Management is Shrinking

John Mansour
4 min readMar 20, 2024

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The definition of product management has been changing and evolving over the past 10 years and it’s not for the better.

I make it a regular habit to have conversations with product management directors and VPs. Most of them are not our customers. It keeps me current on the landscape of the product management profession without any slant or bias to what we do.

Over the past few years, I’ve noticed a growing sentiment that the definition of product management keeps shrinking to the point where it’s becoming only the tactical things required to execute the next set of (agile) sprints. In other words, the agile development process is redefining what we call product management.

I’m hearing the phrase “feature factory” more and more from product executives and they’re incredibly frustrated!

The ironic thing is that so many of them say their sprint execution isn’t getting any better, and in a fair number of cases, it’s getting worse, including the value of features being delivered.

For those of you that have only been in product management a minute, there’s a strong correlation between sprint execution, your definition of product management, and the value of the products and features you’re delivering.

For those of you that have been in product management a little more than a minute, you know exactly where I’m headed with this discussion!

It’s Time to Expand the Definition Product Management Again

If you want to improve your tactical sprint execution and consistently deliver strategic customer value that can be quantified, it might be time to expand your definition of product management and figure out how to put it into practice. Here are a few pointers.

1. Go Upstream

One of the biggest culprits of poor agile execution is the lack of clear value targets that start with product planning and ripple their way into UX design and development. Right now, a lot of designers and engineers still don’t know exactly what they’re aiming for in terms of customer outcomes and why they’re valuable. An d it doesn’t matter how well the product specs are written.

Strengthen your upstream practices around market and customer knowledge (not to be confused with user knowledge), customer discovery (not to be confused with user and product discovery) and create strategic product roadmaps (not to be confused with feature delivery schedules).

These are foundational elements of product management that happen further upstream. They ultimately lead to stronger user knowledge, improve your user/product discovery interactions, and simplify the prioritization of your backlog further downstream. Collectively, they strengthen the things that feed your agile process.

2. Structure Your Team for Customer Value First

Here’s another disturbing trend that may be contributing to the shrinking definition of product management.

Many organizations are combining the product manager and product owner roles. This is a recipe for mediocre products and a tactical order-taking product management discipline. Here’s why.

When you combine the WHO, WHAT & WHY role (product manager) with the functional HOW role (product owner), you get someone that’s spread too thin to do either job well. If you’ve never had product owners and only product managers, or vice-versa, the end result is still the same.

Here’s the thing. There are quite a few individuals have the skills to perform well in both roles. But none have the capacity or the time to do both jobs well. There isn’t enough time in a day to do both to the extent they need to be done.

If you have product owner responsibilities, you have to be 100% all in with your UX and development team. Short of your user conversations, you have no time to shift your focus to the market and customer dynamics (a few levels above the users) and manage the business of the product.

That means product management is reduced to prioritizing a feature backlog. It’s not good, for product management, your organization or your customers!

The Bottom Line on the Definition of Product Management

When it’s all said and done, a strong product management discipline has to accomplish two things:

  1. Deliver products that make users measurably better at their job in ways that have strategic value to the customer organization.
  2. Deliver those product to the market in ways that advance the strategic and financial goals of your own organization.

Neither of those goals can be met if every product manager is only operating inside the sphere of the next user problem and the next sprint priorities.

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John Mansour

Eliminate inconsistencies in how customer value is defined with personalized hands-on training courses for B2B/B2B2C product management & product marketing.