The Full Stack Product Manager Reimagined

Published May 5, 2018
What if a product manager were to exist that had a diverse background in business, ranging from sales and marketing to research and design, to leadership and development? Would that person be more impactful than the average Product Manager?

In my first tech job, my title was Senior Product and Client Development Manager. It was a mouthful of a title, and the responsibilities that came with it were likewise spread out. In fact, so spread out that there was not a corner of the business that I did not quickly have to learn, understand, synthesize, and deliver on. It was this experience that started me on the quest for the stack of product management skills.

It wasn’t until my second product management role, when I had the privilege of working with both internal and external peers, that I realized that not all product managers were created equal; in fact, a PM’s role can vary widely, depending on the business’s needs, organizational structure, and size.

And it’s not just my experience. Here’s a quick taste of the smorgasbord of product management responsibilities specified in recent LinkedIn job postings I’ve seen:

  • “Contribute to a team culture of learning, retrospection, experimentation and cat gifs” (Intuit)
  • “Support product marketing to create customer-driven messaging and content” (Uber)
  • “Use data to understand how users engage with our product and define hypothesis-driven product development that drives engagement goals” (Lumosity)

The range of these skills does evoke the now trite refrain that product managers are in fact the CEO of the product, despite the fact that plenty would argue this metaphor is no longer useful. I do think we all would acknowledge that the average product manager is in the perfect position to impact all aspects of an organization. Just think of ALL the Venn diagrams!

What if a product manager were to exist that had a diverse background in business, ranging from sales and marketing to research and design, to leadership and development? Would that person be more impactful than the average Product Manager?

I’d like to think so.

Enter the Full Stack Product Manager

This term tends to elicit strong opinions, some from contributors to this very publication (it is the internet, after all, so strong opinions are inevitable). To be clear, I am not saying that a full stack product manager has the same or similar skill sets to that of a full stack software engineer – someone who has the ability to build a web client, handle server-side business logic, manage and grow the requisite database, all while handling operational support.

Instead, I would like to propose an entirely different “stack” for product management:

Derek Jamieson's Product Management Stack

Customers and Sales:

Onboarding, training, support, interviews, demos, proposals, pitches, and partnerships

Marketing and Products:

Campaigns, collateral, promotions, pricing, strategy, roadmaps, features, and integrations

Technology and Design:

Development, architecture, infrastructure, quality, wireframes, prototypes, interface, and user experience

Discovery and Analysis:

Research, experimentation, observation, documentation, measurement, comparison, relationship, and significance

Leadership and Operations:

Hiring, training, delegation, accountability, stakeholders, resources, liabilities, and finance

Unlike in the software engineering space, product managers are not segmented by which subset of the above skills they bring to the table, and in many cases are not even required to possess the majority. This reality creates significant inconsistency in the capabilities and output of product managers across different companies. As a result, one cannot assume that product managers are interchangeable from business to business in the way that software engineers who are coding in the same language are.

Now, I am not proposing that we begin segmenting the product management role, we have all worked hard for this title and the last thing I want is to diminish its prestige and all-encompassing nature.

Instead, I want to encourage us to spend time with the above skills, recognize our strengths, identify our gaps, and put a plan in place to continue learning and growing in all areas. The accessibility of quality, free/low-cost learning content is simply astonishing. Between YouTube, Medium, Udemy, Coursera, OpenLearn, audiobooks, and podcasts, it has never been easier to create your own, cost-effective development plan. Beyond that, you are most likely surrounded by experts in each of the above skills; lean on your co-workers and friends and do not be afraid to ask questions to close out your knowledge gaps. For if we each earnestly pursue the role of full stack product manager, the entire industry will benefit.

Finally, I challenge you to think through your network of peers and mentors. Do you already know someone who could be considered a full stack product manager? My bet is that you do. Take the time to acknowledge this individual, as they are the reason we can all so confidently quote Ben Horowitz in saying that we are the CEOs of our own products.