[2023 kcdc] what your product manager actually does & why it matters

Speaker: Annie Cochran

For more, see theĀ table of contents.

Like the speaker, I”m using PM in this post to mean product manager


  • Amount of power varies amongst PMs
  • Product Manager vs Product Owner vs Project Manager – these are different roles. Some companies use these terms interchangeably or merge the roles
  • PMs role is to protect developer’s time, unblock things, have conversations/meetings, etc

Day in the life

  • Lots of meetings and prep for a lot of meetings.
  • Common to be double/triple booked
  • 10 meetings/day
  • Juggling between meetings/inbox/to do list
  • Review notes/action items/next day’s schedule

Potential opportunity meeting

  • Frst hear about opportunities to strengthen product.
  • Talk to devs only if agree good opportunity.
  • Say no diplomatically if not.
  • Sometimes not bad but not enough time now.
  • “No and…” – need manager to stand by decisions when need reinforcement
  • Represent team/product at meetings
  • Protect goals of product and team

Brag about the team meeting

  • Celebrate publicly to senior leadership and executives what devs did.


  • Series of meetings and activities
  • Trying to discover user needs/goals/pain points
  • Tries to choose best method for the problem at hand
  • Vet work and decide if take back to team
  • Another meeting where protect devs time
  • Use Mural

Other types of meetings

  • One on one – ex: engineering manager
  • Surprise meetings
  • PO meeting
  • Team ceremonies – ex: standup refinement/grooming


  • PM fills in where can.
  • Then team fills in. Pre-refinement. Does twice a week for a specific set of stories. A developer must be present because talking about technical details. Investment of time.
  • Actual refinement is after tech lead involved

Shouldn’t do

  • Don’t make technical choices
  • Don’t need to know all tech solutions
  • Not CEO of the product. Don’t want to make decisions in a top down way. Make choices with the team vs hierarchically.
  • Don’t need to control every moment of pre-refinement
  • Tech adjacent, but not technical
  • Not a data analyst. Interpreting data, not collecting it.
  • Not a project manager. Project manager focused on timeline/deadlines (when). Product manager focused on whether should do it at all (why)

How can devs help the PM

  • Participate in meetings.
  • Pay full attention in meetings; don’t do side work
  • Listen so know when can contribute.
  • Give input when asked. Gives confidence for others to share.
  • Prepare in advance when asked
  • Communicate problems as soon as blocked. Give info so can deal fight dragons.
  • Constructive criticism when needed

Product Owner and Product Manager

  • Common for it to be the same person
  • Similar role
  • Internet says PM is more strategic and PO is more tactical
  • Someone in audience said PO supposed to have more authority. Others disagree.
  • Another person said transferred PO to PM
  • Another person said PO helps prioritize backlog as exists, clean it out. BAs groom stories. PMs oversee activities but focus on why.
  • Another person said PMs looking at longer term and POs focus on day to day (ex: standups/impediments)
  • There’s a PO Analyst course role between PO and PM
  • Conclusion – varies a lot by organization and even within an organization

Tech debt

  • Annie is a former dev (for 8 months)
  • Explain why important, robustness, maintainable
  • Make it less abstract
  • Technical education from team so can explain to business. ex: can’t deliver X until fix Y.
  • Don’t ask permission to do job right. Just right tests

My take

This was a fun start to the day. It was nice seeing the POV of a product manager. Annie is a former developer who has been in the role for 13 months. This is a good amount of time for the topic. I like that she crafted a message specifically for developers. I enjoyed both the talk part and question/discussion part. There was a lot of activity.

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