The four types of product managers
The product manager you hire depends on the type of product your company is working on. Often companies need a mix of the below. Some people can function as more than one type of PM, while other individuals are hard wired to only do one of the below well.
1. Business product manager
These product managers are strongest at synthesizing external customer requests into an internal product road map. Business PMs tend to thrive at enterprise software companies, or working on the partner-facing portions of consumer applications. They can work well with sales and present well to customers, yet are still technical enough to work with engineering and design to trade off road map versus engineering effort needed. They will have keener insights into product pricing, customer segmentation, and customer needs.
2. Technical product manager
Technical PMs are often (but not always) deeply technical people who can work with engineering on areas like infrastructure, search quality, machine learning, or other inward-facing work. Technical PMs can often work on a wide variety of products across enterprise and consumer as long as they can pick up the necessary business skills and have good user intuition to make the right trade-offs in the product.
3. Design product manager
Most commonly found working on consumer applications, design-centric product managers are more user experience-centric. Some companies will convert a designer to be the product manager for a consumer product. While designers are often incredibly talented at user experience and visual design, they may not be trained in making the trade-offs needed to run a business (e.g., advertising models, pricing, etc.) or may want a product to be pixel perfect (which means it will take longer to ship the product). In general, it is good to retrain design people who become product managers to focus more on pragmatic trade-offs between beauty and marketing. Design PMs spend the most time with internal engineering and design teams and tend to spend less time on outward facing or business-centric tasks.
4. Growth product manager
Growth PMs tend to be quantitative, analytical, numbers-driven, and in the best cases wildly creative and aggressive. The focus of the growth PM is to (i) determine the critical levers needed to drive product adoption and use, and then (ii) to manipulate those levers. For example, the growth team at Facebook added tens of millions of incremental users via email loops, funnel optimization, and large scale multivariate testing of sign up, conversion, and other flows. Growth PMs tend to work closely with engineering, marketing, UX, and in some cases partnership or deal teams. Sometimes growth marketing will play the role of growth product management and this role will report into marketing.
In general, the more technical and back-end heavy your product, the fewer product managers you will have. A database company is likely to have a much lower product manager to engineer ratio than a consumer internet company. When I was at Google, the search infrastructure team had a few-to-none product managers while the mobile team, which was more UI-centric and business-centric, had many (despite a much smaller engineering organization).
- Good Product Manager/Bad Product Manager by Ben Horowitz
- What, exactly, is a Product Manager?
- What It Takes to Become a Great Product Manager
- The History and Evolution of Product Management
- Product Management Fundamentals
- First 30 days as a PM – what should you do? – Ken Norton