Are you a product manager or just a PMINO?

Having the title of product manager doesn't necessarily mean you are really managing the product.

My career has taught me that in the context of different continents, countries, industries, companies and organizations, titles mean precious little. I've worked for companies that were lousy with vice presidents and directors and in others where those titles actually meant something. The inherent ambiguity of titles, as well as the plethora of definitions of product management, led me to ponder what it really means to be a product manager, rather than a PMINO (product manager in name only {pronounce puh-MEEN-oh}). Here's my list of the key criteria I use to determine if someone is really worthy of the title of product manager.

In my book you are really a product manager if (and only if) you:


Define the Product Vision
When I began writing this post, I thought that, coming top-down, vision would be the first criterion addressed. The truth is, even without a vision, some organizations can generate impressive results. If we're really honest, not that many companies, business units or product groups really have a meaningful vision. Regardless, if a vision has been articulated and you weren't instrumental in its definition, you just might be a PMINO.


Own the Roadmap
The roadmap is the incarnation of the vision, linking it to delivery of value to stakeholders. If others are defining the roadmap, there is a significant possibility that you are a PMINO. Owning the roadmap doesn't mean that  you unilaterally define what will ship over the next few "turns of the crank", it simply means that the roadmap cannot be communicated to stakeholders without your buy-in (however coercively that buy-in was achieved).

Set Release Priorities
While I'm a big believer in grand visions and audacious goals, I'm an even bigger believer in shipping products to customers that meet business objectives. If you aren't the primary driver and gatekeeper of release priorities, there's a good chance you're a PMINO. Few product managers are so influential that they define prioritiesex-cathedra, but if releases don't reflect your priorities and even your style, you may have slid across the continuum of amorphous disciplines toward the "proJect manager" zone.You have to ask yourself, "Am I in thedriver's seator am I really in thebackseat.", and make sure you can live with the truth. A relatively large number of people can dutifully execute on another's priorities; a proud few (product managers) can take accountability for release priorities and win in the market.

Are Acknowledged as a Leader by the Product Team
While this is probably the most nebulous of the criteria I've proposed, in my experience, a few intelligent questions posed to the right members of the extended product development team (engineering, marketing, sales) will quickly indicate whether you are a real product manager that leads or simply someone carrying the title. This criterion underscores one of the most difficult aspects of being a product manager: You lead many but have authority over almost none.If you haven't become the spiritual leader of your product, you, in my mind, have some work to do. Above all else, product managers are leaders. By definition, leaders have followers. While the world isn't anywhere close to being this black and white, as a guideline, you as a product manager should probably be doing more leading than following.

In closing, being a PMINO isn't necessarily a reflection of individual talent or initiative. The best of product managers can find themselves in situations in which they've been dis-empowered to the point they don't have the influence on the product they should. For this reason, it's a good idea to use the criteria above as a checklist from time to time to assess if you're charter has, over time, been reduced to a point that you're following more than leading.

What do you think of my criteria? What would you add? Have you met PMINOs? Where do you fall on the PM/PMINO continuum?