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What Great Product Managers Can Teach Us About Our Work

Let’s face it; we often have enough on own our desks that we rarely give thought to how our colleagues execute on their responsibilities. In certain instances, though, our success is tied to their success, and an understanding of their roles—and how well they perform them—is self-serving, but also smart. In orthopaedics, it would behoove most folks to familiarize themselves with the role of the product manager, because understanding that person’s day-to-day and skillset could lead others to think differently about how we collaborate with them.

If you work closely with a product manager—even if you are a product manager—you may overlook the span and depth of the skills required to be effective.

Product managers’ responsibilities include:

• Strategic business and product planning
• Product development and maintenance
• Distribution support and planning
• Product promotion and training
• People management
• Financial and business management

Great product managers can juggle from all angles. Warren M. Gitt refers to this as leading from the middle: essentially, managing up- and downstream of you. Gitt, Principal at Overlook International Group and Vice President of Business Development at K2M, has spent most of his career in product management functions, and used that experience to outline the responsibilities of product managers vs. product developers during his talk at OMTEC. (The slide below, from Gitt's presentation, shows the product management lifecycle with product development circled.)

Product Management vs ProductDevelopment 2

He began by noting that most product managers (and even product engineers) have a lot of responsibility, but no authority. To be successful, you must use “your personal powers of persuasion, your ability to communicate, and your understanding of the company’s strategic objectives and how your product dovetails with those objectives.”

What is your individual product? What do you create, day in and day out, for your colleagues and your customers? Applying lessons in communication, decision making and strategy from great product managers may spur new ideas for ways to think in an even bigger picture.

Effective communication requires the ability to tailor a clear and concise message, whether oral, written or analytic, for different personalities and skill sets. Product managers collaborate with engineering, quality, finance, sales, etc., gathering input from sometimes competing interests.

“You have to get things done through others,” Gitt says of product managers. “You have to be able to cross over and talk the lingo of people who don’t think like you, act like you or have the same approach to business as you.”

That’s not easy. It requires reflection on how we communicate on individual and group levels to ensure that our message is relevant and understood by our audience.

External influences play a role in decision making. A product manager needs to know the customer and they need to know the market, including, as Gitt puts it, from where the money flows. 

For context, he mentioned this in reference to the increased purchasing power that hospital administrators have over surgeons, sharing that good product managers leverage all available information to make informed decisions that meet the demands of the changing market. 

“[There’s an] increase in the importance of data, irrespective of your product,” Gitt says. “With data, you can find out a lot more about your market, user preferences, who is paying for what, then build financial models much better than they used to be.”

Gitt’s point suggests a list of questions no one should skip when considering their product (or service): Who buys it? How does that knowledge change your touch point with the product? What other external influences should you consider? Regulatory? Economic? 

Execution of strategy is the ultimate charge of the product manager. His or her connection with the product lifecycle forces them to think proactively and reactively, and devise and execute plans that focus the team on two things: revenue and the customer. 

A prime example of this is the role that product manager’s play in holding colleagues accountable during the product development process, Gitt says.

“There needs to be someone who is an unbiased arbiter who focuses decision-making on whether we should allow the scope creep to occur. Are we going beyond what we really wanted the product to be? Are we putting a whistle on a plow, when all we wanted was a plow?” Gitt says. “[You] need to be conscious of these things and hold people accountable for committing to the plan. That’s not to say that the plan can’t be changed, but timing is of the essence. A lot of companies will predict what their sales are going to be based on the availability of a product line, and there’s nothing worse than a delayed product introduction.”

It’s easy to get distracted. Ultimately, great product managers maintain focus on the right things: health of the customer and health of the company. It’s a valuable perspective that we should apply to our everyday tasks in order to, frankly, experience professional growth. It’s a perspective that can be easily reinforced when we, as individuals, stop to consider how we communicate our importance to the company, how we respond to our customer and how we manage our own products.

Carolyn LaWell is ORTHOWORLD's Chief Content Officer. She can be reached by This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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