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Coordinated all aspects of product launch including product development, promotions, sales, pricing, and packaging.
A key organizational role in the new product development (NPD) process is commonly referred to as a product manager. The focus of this article will be to define the role of the product manager, why the function is important, specific responsibilities, key attributes and skills required, and conclude with some final thoughts on this important function.
In a recent blog article (1), I asked the question: What is the “right” definition of marketing? A product manager, by my definition, fulfills this mediating role between technologies and the market, or customer needs, and helps define new products.
A recent article in the Journal of Product Innovation Management titled “Improving Marketing’s Contribution to New Product Development” (3) points out two other important considerations. Once a project is underway, the product manager would be an active participant on the project team. If the project includes beta testing of the new product, the product manager is a good choice to manage that process with the customer. As the project continues to progress, the product manager will be consulting with senior management to make important decisions on market introduction. At introduction, the product manager would typically be responsible for training the sales organization, help them with the positioning, selling aids, etc. As the product matures, the product manager, who may have been involved during its entire life cycle would have added to his or her deep tacit knowledge about the market. What about some of the key attributes and skill sets that make a product manager successful?
Translating these customer needs into technical specifications is a third critical skill set.
Now that we have discussed the role of the product manager, why it is important, what specific tasks they are responsible for, and key attributes and skills, I want to conclude with three final remarks. Related to the point above, even if they report to a senior manager responsible for the business, it is important for that senior manager to maintain balance. New Product Visions is a consulting company that helps organizations improve the effectiveness of their new product development processes. This entry was posted in Innovation Management, NPD Organization Structure, Overall NPD Process, Project Definition, Project Management, Project Portfolio Planning by admin. As an Engineering manager, the best New Product Development experiences in my career have involved very engaged product managers that performed the responsibilities just as described in this blog. Carl, your comment about being able to lead and influence people who do not report to them and not alienating others are excellent point, and should be included in the list of the soft skills a good product manager should have. About: As a Product Marketing Manager at Microsoft, Anna Roth uses math and statistics to help people understand how technology actually affects their daily lives, which is not as easy as it might sound. There are many definitions of this role, depending on the size of the company and the type of technology. The point of this article was to make the case that innovation is not just about technology.
Of course, this is done in an iterative fashion by involving all the internal and external stakeholders, until a consensus vision emerges. First, this study provides empirical evidence that firms with a strong marketing influence are more successful with new products. First, they should be responsible for driving the process of defining new products, both from a hardware and software standpoint.

This consists of collecting and documenting new product ideas, managing the process to prioritize existing and potential projects, working with engineering on resource allocation, and developing product roadmaps. They would help make decisions on the multiple trade-offs that are required from the time a new product is documented to the point of introduction. These decisions cannot be taken lightly, and a recent article entitled “The Role of Product Launch Decisions in NPD” (5) addressed this important subject.
They would likely be involved with some early sales calls, and may continue to be involved in important competitive sales situations well past introduction.
First, they must have credibility with engineering, sales, senior management, and customers.
This may be in the form of focus groups, working with key customers, interacting with thought leaders, surveying customer needs, using social media, etc. It is not good enough to understand what customers want, but the product manager has to guide the development of the technical product specifications to match these sometimes very qualitative descriptions of new product features.
They need to be able to communicate effectively with the PhD engineer, the technician putting together prototypes, the finance department, salesman, project managers, senior management, etc.
If they are rewarded strictly based on sales results, for instance through a bonus system, then despite the best efforts of management, they may still emphasize the sales-related activities. The best product managers were successful due to their powerful ability to lead and work well with people whom do not officially report to them on any company org chart. Anna helps Microsoft’s engineers talk to the public directly about their work, bridging the connection between the technical side of the company with its consumers. Here we will focus on the position in the context of small to mid-sized firms who manufacture highly engineered products. If definition of new products is driven solely by engineering, without a marketing influence, you may create technologically elegant solutions for a market that does not exist. Second, a strong marketing function and a capable product manager build important tacit knowledge about a company’s specific market characteristics that is difficult for competitors to duplicate. They will do this by involving all internal and external stakeholders as previously mentioned.
A recent blog article titled “Critical Aspects of Project Portfolio Management in NPD Success” discusses this topic (4). There are few projects where the product that comes to market matches perfectly with what was originally documented. In addition, the product manager during this phase of the project will begin working with the marketing communications organization to develop the external marketing collateral necessary to introduce the product to the market.
This usually means that a good product manager will be someone who has been with the business for some period of time, in a variety of roles, and be well respected by everyone.
The ability to understand and listen to customers is important, but so is the ability to know when not to listen to customers. The point is, they will be need to communicate with just about every personality type that exists. The important point is that you need to carefully consider if the reward system will strike the balance that is required for a product manager to drive innovation success.
In some organizations, a product manager may have P&L responsibility, but for the purposes of this discussion, it is assumed they do not.
As I point out in this article, a broader definition of “marketing” is about defining what the customer will value. I like to describe a product manager as someone who has “one foot in the engineering world and one foot in the sales and marketing world”.

Organizations that are run by senior managers who come from an engineering background need to always remember why customers buy their products. The implication is that this deep tacit knowledge on what works and what does not work from a marketing standpoint is just as valuable as the tacit technical knowledge of key engineers. As part of this process they will rely on their skills in understanding the market and customer needs, and how the product will be positioned against the competition. This role is beyond just a product manager and is especially important for the success of truly radical, new-to-the-market products.
They need to be technically competent on the technology and be able to converse intelligently with engineering staff.
Customers will tell you many things, and existing companies excel at continuing to improve existing technology past the point of value to the customer. How do you translate these types of customer comments to specific, technical specifications? It’s about defining products, along with R&D, to fulfill both utilitarian and emotional needs. Every organization has someone who functions as a product manager, whether they call it by that name or not.
Likewise, if the sales organization drives product definition, you are likely to take the “insurance policy” approach to defining products with every conceivable feature known to mankind, and change course often based on the latest lost sale. In addition, they will draw on their knowledge about how the products work “under the hood” because of their involvement in the engineering world.
For these types of products, it may not be a simple case of transferring the knowledge of the product to the sales organization, but involve a more hands-on role building the business one sale at a time.
They need to have some understanding of how the product works “under-the-hood”, so to speak. If they report to engineering, they tend to focus on that role at the expense of staying in tune with the needs of sales and the customer, and the opposite is true if they report through the sales organization. Subsequent NPD stages really do require some selling skills to gain the best level of commitment from the project team while developing the specifications. It might be preferable that they would have had some direct sales experience that helps develop a deep understanding of the market and ability to empathize with customers. They especially need excellent negotiation skills, as they will be taxed repeatedly throughout a project to negotiate the multiple trade-offs that are required to launch a successful product.
As companies grow, there will be a need for a dedicated product manager that allows senior management to focus on other important aspects of managing the business.
Having said that, since NPD is a key business function (2), senior management is still ultimately responsible and will always need to stay engaged.
Having knowledge and an appreciation for both the technology and the market will provide them credibility with both engineering and sales organizations.
Product managers provide the best guidance they can to inform the strategic business decision and then execute as required.

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