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Today’s news is packed with references to the “Great Resignation.” This was a primary topic for a panel discussion with the recent PDMA Virtual Conference on which I participated. People are changing careers at an astonishing rate with many people finding alternate incomes even without working.
In innovation and new product development (NPD), we are seeing a more subtle shift of job titles and roles. The three jobs that I hear the most frequently are project manager, product manager, and portfolio manager. Each has some unique aspects, yet they all share common traits and characteristics.
Traditionally, project managers execute temporary endeavors that yield unique products, services, or results. Project managers are involved in the day-to-day execution of projects. This includes monitoring the scope of work, the schedule, and the budget. (These items are known as the triple constraint – read more here.)
In innovation, project managers are often responsible for selected segments of product development work. A project manager might be responsible for designing and executing feedback sessions resulting in a new product feasibility study. A project manager might also oversee the detailed engineering and design work to construct, assemble, and manufacture facilities for a new product. Project managers could also be assigned to study the viability of a brand and to initiate pricing or marketing strategies of a next generation product.
In general, project managers are responsible for defined outcomes in work that is temporary.
Product management is an especially hot topic today. Many organizations are expanding roles of project managers to include specific responsibility of a product or brand. Rather than viewing the product from a tactical perspective, product managers approach products from a strategic viewpoint.
Products have a life cycle that starts with ideation, development, introduction to the market, growth, maturity, and decline. (Read about product life cycles here or in Chapter 4 of The Innovation ANSWER Book, 2nd edition.) Product managers influence the financial decisions (such as profit and loss), marketing, manufacturing, and supply chain for the product or brand across all these stages.
Therefore, product managers in innovation offer new concepts to add features to products or to address new target markets. Product managers are involved in all aspects of the product, touching it from inception to retirement. This also involves interfacing among many different departments and functions within an organization. Moreover product managers understand and act on the value and customer satisfaction that a product delivers.
Breadth of organizational customer understanding characterizes the role of a product manager.
Every organization – perhaps today more than ever – has more ideas and work to do than people to do the work. In addition, monetary and equipment resources are also limited in capacity and availability. Portfolio managers apply strategic goals coupled with organizational and market vision, to select and prioritize the most important value-added projects to move forward.
Typically, product portfolio managers have higher level responsibility in an organization – serving at the Vice President or Director level. This offers the product portfolio manager a view of all the moving parts that drive the company to achieve goals and objectives. Further, portfolio managers are able to concisely analyze data and trends specific to their industry. A capability to make efficient trade-off decisions is a top skill for a portfolio manager.
New product portfolios in innovation are frequently ranked by scoring systems. This provides a balance among elements of expected profit, fit with technology, customer advantage, and organizational commitment. Note that both qualitative and financial arguments are used to prioritize strategic corporate efforts for product development.
Analytical thinking and a long-term strategic view drive the decisions of a product portfolio manager.
While the roles of project, product, and portfolio manager have many different aspects, especially in day-to-day work, the roles share many similarities. Project, product, and portfolio managers must have skills to effectively manage diverse teams. Communication, especially listening skills, are critical for success in innovation leadership. Awareness and commitment to delivering value to customers and the organization are also important traits for all product development managers.
If you are a project manager, refine your skills and earn your Project Management Professional certification (PMPÒ). If you are a product manager, invest in product development capabilities with New Product Development Professional certification (NPDP). Finally, if you are responsible for selecting and prioritizing innovation and NPD projects as a portfolio manager, you must register now for 100 Days to Effective PPM.
We only offer this workshop once per year. You will learn theory and industry best practices, share with like-minded colleagues, and transform your new product portfolio into a money-making machine. All in 100 days! Register now for this special workshop.