If you had asked me five years ago what direction I wanted to take my career, I am absolutely certain I would not have said product management. Yet here I am, managing a data products team and loving it. Product management wasn’t much of a thing in data five years ago – there were product managers in some of the companies I worked for, but they were primarily focused on product marketing. That has changed over the past few years though and many organizations are now creating Chief Product Officer roles that report up to their CEOs. Product Management in data is becoming mainstream.
I attended a CIO (Chief Information Officer) conference about a year ago. I’m not a CIO but I was invited and it seemed like a good learning opportunity. In one of the working sessions, the speakers were talking about common challenges that CIOs had. When they got to Q&A, one gentleman commented that his biggest problem was that the business users didn’t know what they wanted. That comment sparked a LOT of discussion from other CIOs around him who were nodding their heads and piling into the discussion.
I can understand their comments – in data, the business stakeholders know they want trustable data but they often don’t know what the product should look like and there will be a hundred questions to be answered along the way that they may not be comfortable with. I spoke with some of those CIOs after the session and suggested that they need to build up a product management organization 😊. The best teams cooperate and have fuzzy lines between product and tech, but in general technology teams ensure we build the solution the right way while product managers ensure we build the right solution.
What is a product manager? If you’ve gone through agile Scrum training then you’ll be familiar with the role of a ‘Product Owner’ on a scrum team. The Product Owner basically decides what will be built and why it will be built, while the engineers and architects determine how it will be built. Product manager responsibilities may include:
- Working with stakeholders to understand the business and the stakeholder’s needs
- Determining the business value for a product or solution, and determining a way to measure success
- Building a strategy, roadmap and backlog of features to be built
- Prioritizing that backlog
- Working closely with the engineering team, user experience and user interface design teams (when applicable) as the product is built out
- Assisting with user acceptance testing
- Working with marketing for a go-to-market plan
- Managing (or coordinating with other individuals to manage) communications and expectations, change management, and training
- Coordinating with other product and engineering teams when there are dependencies
- Tracking how well the product is meeting its success criteria
Even within the field, there’s a lot of diversity. Products come in many shapes and sizes:
- Physical products such as those you can buy in a department or grocery store
- Software products that are used by external customers but don’t have a physical presence
- Internal products such as booking data in a data warehouse. The customer would be inside your organization.
- Business-to-business products where the customer may be another company, not an individual
- Products may be mature or early – coming into a product that has been around for a while is very different than starting a new product
What does it take to be a good product manager? I think Alex Mitchell summed this up really well on his blog. Check it out for the details but here are the traits he says are common for almost all successful product managers:
- Extreme Generalists
- Masters of Prioritization
- They Say “No” a LOT
- Passion for the Product is Impossible to Miss
- An Adaptive Focus on the Past, the Present, and the Future
- Constant Evangelist
- Constant Learner
Product management in data is the perfect field to get into if you’re an analytical or technical person and enjoy working with data but you don’t want to be a developer. It can be a very fulfilling role for people who like working with stakeholders, building out data strategies, and solving business problems. And demand is growing so now’s your time!