I saw a recent Quora question that asked: “What are all the different types of product managers?” ALL of them? I’ve never seen a legitimate list. So, I created one.
Here are a bunch of categories (acknowledging some overlap between them). And I guarantee I didn’t list ALL of them.
By product/industry sector
Online articles about product management might lead you to believe that all positions are now digital. It’s true that technology is increasingly affecting the product landscape from AI to IoT. Yet not every job requires coding. Other knowledge and experience are more relevant for different products in diverse industries.
My client interactions are just the tip of the iceberg, but I have worked with product managers handling:
· medical devices, equipment, consumables
· slurry pumps
· commercial equipment
· financial services
· consumer packaged goods
· automotive parts and accessories
· agricultural products
· games & recreational offerings
And this is just a partial list. The categories could be endless since any company in any industry could have a product management structure. While there is significant overlap on the business side of their responsibilities, there are also significant differences in required industry knowledge.
By customer type
Product managers may sell to consumers for household or personal use, or to businesses for commercial use. B2C product managers must understand the emotional purchase drivers of target buyer archetypes. B2B product managers must understand the more rational purchase drivers of profit contribution, efficacy, and/or engineering fit. Sure, both consumers and business buyers use some combination of thinking and feeling in purchase decisions. But there are differences. That’s why B2B and B2C product managers require subtly different skill sets.
By function and process jurisdiction
Product managers handle new products, existing products, or some combination of the two. Others deal less with the product, and more with marketing, promotion, and sales support. Strategic or upstream product managers direct new product strategy and launch. Tactical or downstream product managers maintain the life-cycles of existing products. Full-stream product managers handle everything from beginning to end. The final functional type is product marketing managers. They have jurisdiction over customer interface and sales support processes more than actual product responsibilities.
Depending on the size of the company and the experience level of the individual, there may be other considerations. Entry-level positions such as assistant, associate, or junior product managers offer on-the-job practice. For an experienced person, the prefix Senior recognizes merit, a higher level on the career ladder, higher status in the firm, and/or supervision of other product managers. Platform product managers govern a group of products with a unified strategy. For firms with many product managers, there may be a manager, director, or vice president of product management.
By other characteristics
This is the infamous “miscellaneous” category. There are a few types that don’t fall into any of the above categories, or are just emerging (and rare).
Multinational corporations with international products sometimes separate the responsibilities for corporate development and local adaptation. Global product managers work on the base product. Domestic product managers address the downstream marketing, and may or may not adapt the actual product to local conditions.
And there are a few emerging models that companies have mentioned to me. One I’ll call the blue-sky product manager. This is an individual the company has selected to focus on breakthrough innovations outside the mainstream business. A second product manager type that is cropping up has the responsibility to design eco-friendly, sustainable offerings. I’ll call that type the regenerative product manager. And as artificial intelligence and the internet-of-things invade more categories, I think there will be a need for integrative product managers who can assess the connections between the manufactured product and the related technology. None of these last three models are trends yet, but they have future potential.
Product managers conceive, create, and commercialize goods and services. They establish the business case for unique, profitable offerings, and then execute their plans through others. But the knowledge, skill sets, and areas of emphasis vary, resulting in different “types” of positions. The partial list of product manager types I’ve provided above include:
· strategic (or upstream)
· tactical (or downstream)
· product marketing manager
· group head (manager, director, or vice president)
· global versus domestic
For more information, refer to Product Management 101, the first book in my ShortRead Series.