Product Management and the Web

“Product management is an organizational function within a company dealing with the planning or marketing of a product or products at all stages of the product lifecycle.” (source)

How does this definition of “Product Management” apply to organizations managing products online? I struggle with the idea that I am somehow a “Product Manager” in the traditional sense. Some of that has to do with the  organizational structure where I am currently employed, but the other part is that I still have a hard time with a website as a product.

Perhaps it is my background and how I started out on the web. My first job was building websites way back in 1997. Ah the days before CSS and complex Javascript. We worked on sites that you could consider straight forward simplistic brochureware. So in that sense we never really had a “product” it was marketing speak about our clients for the most part. In the web development space we have definitely moved to a complex paradigm where users expect the website to be than just a fancy brouchure.

Let’s take a look at an example. Back in early days Yahoo! was considered a directory and while “My Yahoo!” was around you would have a hard time selling me on the idea that the earliest iteration was a product. But look at what “My Yahoo!” has turned into now. There are many more content and customization options available now that make this feel more like a product.

So where does this leave us? I’m still coming to grips with the label of Product Manager, but in looking at what we do for a living it certainly doesn’t feel like it is not too far of a departure. We allow the customers we serve to engage with us in a much deeper way than those old “brochureware” sites of the past. Our stakeholders are viewing our web products as an additional tool at attraction and retention. So while we may not be managing dialysis machines, iPods or turbo chargers we do still have a product.