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Last updated on 9/10/20

Learn about the different types of product manager

When we talk about product management, the "product" that we talk about is a digital product: typically websites, apps, or software. Even within the world of "websites, apps, and software," there is a huge variation in the types of products and product management teams working on these products.

When searching for candidates to fill a product management position, recruiters will often specify in more detail the type of product management profile they seek.  Let's dive a bit deeper into some of the key aspects of products and why they require slightly different skillsets. 🎨✏️🔢

Early vs mature products

If a product manager joins a project which is very early in its lifecycle, then that product manager will be very involved in helping define "what the product is."

This involves conducting product research (competitor analysis, interviewing customers), prototyping, and validating potential business models. In this early phase of a startup, discovering a scalable business model and viable product are the key goals, so  experimentation, validation, finding early customers, and getting their feedback are key activities. 

If a product manager joins a project which is very mature and has been successful for many years, then that product manager will be less focused on learning and validation. Rather, the focus is on enhancement and adding value by polishing the product to support existing clients workflows. Ensuring quality by releasing bug-free products is also imperative. 🚫🐛

B2C vs B2B

Some companies sell directly to the end-customers (i.e. Business-to-Customer or B2C). Some companies sell directly to other businesses (i.e. Business-to-Business or B2B). Some companies sell to both businesses and end-customers. Examples could include Netflix (B2C), SAP (B2B) and Gmail (B2C and also B2B as part of Google for Work). 

B2B product managers typically have to know the domain and  industry of the problem they are solving. For example, if a product manages employee expenses, then the product manager will require domain knowledge (financial, travel, VAT and invoicing) to make effective product decisions.

B2B products tend to have fewer customers than B2C products and the transaction amount (sale price) tends to be much higher with B2B products. Making a sale typically has a much longer cycle. B2B products have to work very closely with the Sales department and public commitments in the roadmap are often required, meaning the B2B product manager must plan carefully and with a higher degree of certainty.

Mobile vs desktop

Some products are:

  • Available only as an app. They are most commonly accessed through app stores such as the App Store for iOS and the Play store for Android. Examples would be Instagram and Uber.  

  • Available only for desktop devices such as a Windows or Mac machine.

  • Available for both desktop and mobile, but the available functionality on mobile can often be less than on desktop. Less functionality on mobile is often appropriate due to the smaller size of the screen on the mobile device.

To be an effective product manager for a mobile app, experience in designing for mobile (interactions, user experience) and analyzing app-specific metrics (installs, sessions etc.) is very valuable. Mobile and app marketing is also a specialized field. Listing products in the app store and knowing app monetization models are also relevant skills.

In addition to installing apps, many mobile users view websites using the browser on their mobile. If you do a Google search on your mobile and visit some of the resulting sites (without installing an app) then these sites would most likely "optimize" the web pages they show you for mobile, which means that they ask the server what device you are using and give back to you a web page that will look nice on your device.

Note that most products these days are a mix of mobile and desktop offerings. Product managers who can gain experience in both areas early in their career should do so. Sometimes a company will hire only product managers with a certain amount of experience in mobile, and mobile usage is increasing rapidly which makes mobile experience great to add to the product manager's resume!

Shipped Software vs dynamic

"Shipped software" is any product that requires an install before it can work. Examples include installing an application from a CD, downloading a file to install, or installing an app from an App Store.

The alternative is a product which is served directly to customers, for example the BBC news website can make changes to their codebase many times a day and the results are then instantly seen by website visitors.

Product managers who work on shipped software will focus on release quality. Lots of testing and documentation are an important part of any release because any errors in the release will require another release to fix.

Technical vs non-technical

Some product manager positions are advertised as being for a "technical product manager." The best way  to think of this is that the role is for a "product manager" and the person who fills that role is "technical."

The technical knowledge of the product manager can be important when the ability to grasp the nature of the product depends on understanding deep technical details. The product manager must be able to communicate effectively with the developers on the team and sometimes the product role can be filled by someone who was a developer previously.

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