What Is the Difference Between Product Management, Product Marketing, Product Development and Program Management?

Posted by Lauren Lessard on April 18th, 2018


Co-authored by Paul Manning, VP, Software at The Bowdoin Group, and Sean Walker, Partner at The Bowdoin Group

In a recent Pulse post, VP Sales, CGO and CCO – What’s the Difference and Which Should I Choose?, we laid out the differences between three critical sales leader roles.

As a follow up, two of our longstanding clients requested that we highlight the differences between product management, product marketing, product development, and program management.  We are happy to oblige because in our work at the executive level in organizations, we hire leaders that guide these functions, and as such, it’s important to understand the nuances between them and how they coexist.

In this post, we examine how these functions operate in the software world as opposed to industrial design or engineering, for example, as it is most representative of our clients’ environments.

Product Management

Product management’s primary responsibility is to build a product that customers are going to purchase and evangelize.  Chartered with driving the market requirements, they must be adept at coalescing input from customers, support, prospects, and sales, and weigh that with what the competition is doing.  The team combines that information with overarching market trends to determine how the product (or new products) should function.  Product management writes the product requirements and works directly with product development to set the vision, guidelines, and priorities for the team – in essence, the two teams collaboratively build the product roadmap.  It’s because of their continuous stream of communication with the technical team that some people assume product management sits behind computers all day, but that couldn’t be further from the truth.  In fact, product management spends a fair amount of time with clients as it’s important to understand how clients use the product.

Product management teams are often excellent at collecting and prioritizing feedback and fluent in both technical and non-technical speak as they are the liaisons between technical and non-technical audiences. They work hand-in-hand with product marketing counterparts, and in some companies, they can hold both roles.

Product Marketing

Product marketing is charged with ensuring that a product is more widely adopted, not only by potential clients, but also by existing ones.  They work with the same inputs – customers, support, prospects, sales, and competition – to develop positioning, messaging, target audiences, and the overall marketing strategy for a product.  It is up to product marketing to determine how the product fits with the company’s brand and with the broader marketplace.  Once the product is in the field, they make sure that sales and marketing teams have the resources they need to attract new customers and that the product remains relevant as markets evolve.[i]

Top product marketing teams are a bit like a unicorn: creative with technical chops.  Like any good marketer, they are great storytellers and somehow manage to distill the product’s message down to its simplest form.[ii] 

Product Development

Product development builds the product with direction from product management.  This team is typically made up of individuals with backgrounds in software development, design, or engineering.  Product development is a team sport – it takes architects, multiple software developers with various skill sets, and a QA/testing team.  Of the four functions we are comparing, this is the most complex in terms of team dynamic and the methodologies used for development.

With the complexities that exist within today’s technologies and the myriad choices you can make along the way, the product development process can be incredibly complex.  These days, product development is challenged even further because they must ensure the product can operate efficiently and securely in the Cloud, which is no small feat.

Great product development teams always have scalability in mind.  Even though they’re building for today, the foundations and framework must be in place so that tomorrow’s requirements can be fulfilled as efficiently as possible.

Program Management

Program management oversees a number of related projects with the goal of improving the performance of an organization in some way.[iii]  Program management is inherently more strategic than people may think.  In addition to executing against a specific project plan which includes creating timelines, lining up various resources, and organizing systems, they ensure bigger organizational goals are being met.  They are tasked with working with stakeholders throughout the organization for buy-in and bringing learnings from various projects together.

Program management teams are typically high-level thinkers that can also execute like no other, comfortable at making black and white out of gray, and are stellar at working with and managing people.

We hope you found our take on these four unique functions insightful.  What is your perspective?  Does this encapsulate how they function with your organization?  We’d love to hear your thoughts.

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[i] https://blog.drift.com/what-is-product-marketing/

[ii] https://www.slideshare.net/andyreid100/the-top-5-skills-of-the-awesome-product-marketer

[iii] https://www.pmi.org/learning/featured-topics/program

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