Why are there so many product manager titles? The list keeps growing!

Once upon a time, there was one product manager title, product manager.

Today and we have…

  • Product managers
  • Technical Product Managers
  • Principal Product Managers
  • Associate Product Managers
  • Senior Product Managers
  • Group Product Managers
  • Lead Product Managers

…and the list goes on.

Here’s one theory on how we got to this point.

As product management has grown in popularity, everyone in or around it wants to be a product manager. Any title that doesn’t include “product manager” is somehow perceived as less desirable.

For some inexplicable reason, there’s a stigma that goes with non-product manager job titles that make them second rate to the product manager. Is it just the title? The pay scale?

You can’t fault any organization for doing what’s necessary to hang on to good people. Giving them a more desirable job title surely helps the cause.

Here’s a fact that’s not a newsflash to anyone reading this post. Many people with product manager titles are functioning in ways that don’t even resemble a product manager. And the traditional product manager job responsibilities or variations thereof aren’t even part of many of these new job descriptions.

How Much Does a Product Manager Title Really Matter?

If you’re looking at it purely from a performance standpoint, high-performing product management teams require two distinct skill sets. Title them as you wish.

1. WHO, WHAT & WHY Skills

For those that have a strong desire to be more in touch with the business dynamics of their target customers far more than the nitty gritty details of their products, this is the ideal role. People in this role are the chief business requirements gatherers. They provide the richest possible voice of the customer to product management, product marketing, sales and customer success teams so that your organization is aligned across the board to a common set of strategic and operational customer priorities and success metrics.

2. HOW Skills

For those that love to tinker with the product, this is your wheelhouse. Translating business requirements into functional specifications, creating prototypes, working with designers and developers, testing user scenarios, etc., requires a unique skillset and attention to detail that’s paramount to the success of any product and every product management team.

Because most of the titles for people in this role are not labeled product manager, they’re often difficult to fill. The end result is that most people wearing this hat also have product manager titles but don’t have typical product manager responsibilities.

Worse yet, many people who were hired as product managers are forced to wear this hat too! It’s a recipe for mediocrity over the long haul. It’s rare for people to have both skill sets. But even for those who do, they don’t have the capacity to perform both jobs to the extent required for team success.

Given the variety of new product manager titles that carry more (perceived) panache, will we soon reach a point where it’s less desirable to just be a product manager?

What’s your take? Join the conversation on LinkedIn.

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