The Three Modes of Product Managers

While contemplating the PM Scorecard and why organizations need to invest in understanding their PM needs, I was in need of an example that would make the most skeptical skeptic become a believer in the idea: PMs are not the same and are not generalists—even though Mind the Product thinks so. 🙄

As I was floating my “three modes of PMs” theory/framework to PMs that I know and respect, I was met with some criticism, but overall a lot of support and enthusiasm of the framework! By talking out my ideas, I started to realize that this framework could help PMs in the following ways:

  1. Understanding what type of PM you are, including your strengths and weaknesses
  2. Understanding what skills you would need to improve/attain to change to a different mode
  3. Where new PMs should start (spoiler: in Optimization)

Initially, I was concentrating on what PMs do in each of these modes, but Rob Hayes of pointed out a useful addition: how they work.

So without further adieu, here’s the latest iteration of the Three Modes of Product Managers framework:

The Product-Market Fit PM

The PMF PM can work very well with ambiguity and early-stage products/companies where the risk level is highest as they are still working towards Product-Market Fit (PMF).Their main focus is determining and focusing on the primary Jobs to Be Done to attract early adopters, and the PM is comfortable relying on qualitative interviews and intuition to guide product strategy and development.

This PM is hands-on by default, and as a result, covers any holes by wearing and juggling multiple hats/roles/tasks to ensure the team is constantly moving forward.


The Growth PM

Once PMF has been reached, the Growth PM is solely focused on secondary (and tertiary) Jobs to Be Done that will give the Early Majority/Late Majority solid, justifiable reasons to switch from their current solution. This PM uses a mix of qualitative research and data, as there is now enough users, to guide product strategy to focus on what problems they should solve to maximize growth and retention efforts.

This PM is less hands-on that the PMF PM and acts more as a manager/leader of the product team, guiding them from more of a strategical standpoint on how the team can achieve their objectives.


The Optimization PM

The Optimization PM specializes on tweaking and optimizing the proven “bread and butter” parts of firmly established products, like the sign-up flow and checkout flows, where a 2% improvement, which would not be acceptable for other PMs, could mean an additional million dollars in revenue for the company. This PM is heavily reliant on data analysis (A/B testing, funnel metrics, heatmaps, etc.) to ensure they never decrease conversion.

And more visually: These modes are set in stone, but rather fluid as PMs can move back and forth in them depending on the company they’re at the product/feature set they working on.
How else can we expand these modes? Are there other modes that I’ve missed?

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