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Product Managers Are Obsolete; Focus on the Job-to-be-Done

Product Managers Are Obsolete; Focus on the Job-to-be-Done

Product Managers are essential to a company’s success. In fact, a recent McKinsey article referred to them as “mini-CEOs” since they are responsible for what is arguably the biggest contributor to a company’s success and growth–its products. While the role of the product manager is critical, we feel that the title “product manager” is a legacy of outdated business thinking. We therefore advocate doing away with the traditional product manager and propose a new title and responsibility.

What’s wrong with product managers? The word “product” gives away the problem. The product manager role is anchored in the product–which in our opinion contributes to a myopic view of the market. Since a primary function of the company is innovation, this key role should have a broader orientation than just the company’s products (see our prior article on this). This role should take on a market perspective that fosters new thinking, discovery and development that extends well beyond today’s products. To revolutionize this important role, we believe it should be anchored on the customer’s “job-to-be-done”, not the product.

There are many advantages to moving from a product orientation to seeing the role through a jobs-to-be-done lens. Here are just three of the many advantages:

Remove Market Myopia

A company that is focused on the customer’s job-to-be-done instead of the company’s products is much more likely to take a broader view of the market. This would include an expanded view of the competition and potential opportunities for growth. For example, an Intuit product manager would go from focusing on Quickbooks to focusing instead on helping customers “manage cash flow”. Or a product manager at Garmin would stop focusing on fitness trackers (the product) and instead focus on helping customers “improve their physical fitness”. The job-to-be-done, by definition, is always bigger and more encompassing than a product category. This perspective frees the company to look beyond today’s products and to think about a solution that will get the entire job done on a single platform.

Imagine if the product managers responsible for Yellow Pages’ success thought this way 20 years ago. They would have created two Job Manager roles. One Job Manager would have been focused on helping businesses “obtain new customers”, a job that was better addressed and disrupted by non-traditional competitors.

A second Job Manager would have been focused on consumers who were trying to “find a local service provider”. This would have freed up the product manager from a focus on its three-pound paper book platform to look for other technologies that could get the job done better. The focus on the book instead of getting the job done better was costly. We all know how that story ended.

Improve the Customer Experience

A traditional product manager has a solid understanding of the products they create and sell. Job Managers, on the other hand, have an intimate knowledge of their customer’s job-to-be-done and the metrics that customers use to measure success when getting the job done. Which lens do you think will provide richer insights into the creation of customer value?

By deeply understanding the customer’s job-to-be-done and their metrics for success, the Job Manager can continuously monitor the customer experience along dimensions that matter most to the customer. We call these metrics the customer’s “desired outcomes”. Using this approach means you can stop guessing at what is driving the company’s NPS score—the Job Manager will know exactly which outcomes move the NPS needle and drive a positive customer experience.

Institutionalize Market Knowledge

With a focus on the job-to-be-done, the Job Manager (using ODI) creates a job map, captures the customer’s outcomes and conducts quantitative research that reveals hidden opportunities for growth. As we have written before, jobs and outcomes do not change over time, only solutions do. Consequently, this unique understanding of the market, and the new market map that supports it, becomes a long-term asset of the company—and asset that can be used to guide the company’s development, marketing, sales and even employee training activities for years to come.

With a stable, data-driven, customer-centric model in place, the organization possesses a common language and understanding of the market. They will agree on what the customer’s needs are and which are unmet. How often does that happen? And when it comes time to rotate the Job Manager into a new position, his or her replacement can walk confidently into the role knowing that stable and useful market insights are already available. No ramp up time or reinventing the wheel. Institutional knowledge is not lost. The new Job Manager is ready to deliver on day one.

A broader view of the market, a better understanding of the customer experience and improved institutional market knowledge–these are just three of the many reasons we believe that it is time to embrace the role of the Job Manager.

Rob Schade

Rob drives client success with his deep expertise in Jobs-to-Be-Done (JTBD) theory and Outcome-Driven Innovation (ODI). He has advised leadership teams in many industries, including technology, manufacturing, consumer packaged goods, medical device, and fintech. He also has deep expertise in the area of service innovation – helping companies to innovate current service offerings or create entirely new ones. Rob is also responsible for marketing and sales efforts where he shares his passion for improving the innovation process, a commitment he picked up during a decade working in hardware and software ventures in Silicon Valley. He received both his undergraduate and master’s degree in Accounting and Finance from the University of South Carolina. Don’t be surprised if you receive a call from Rob during an ODI engagement – he is dogged in his pursuit of making sure our clients are satisfied!

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