Small Company Syndrome: Program Manager or Product Manager?

I just had an interesting conversation with someone who was recently promoted in a smaller company to being “Product Manager”. A lot of these titles get huge publicity because of how familiar terms have become in the software industry. While it might be more useful not to get hung up on a title and just concentrate on doing what you need to do – it does help to identify what your role should be if you aren’t sure.

Of course, in really small companies, those roles are all combined with the role of chief cook, bottle washer, janitor, tester and admin assistants but it would be interesting to note if these definitions are still valid for most software companies.

According to some training literature (gleaned from MS Secrets) , the areas of responsibility for a product manager are
– Oversee a business
– Recognize and pursue marketing opportunities
– Represent the customer in product development
– Take responsibility for trade-offs between functionality and ship date
– Take responsibility for the marketing and sales process
For many smaller companies, this is more in line with the actual product marketing manager or team. Instead, smaller companies should typically look at the definition of a program manager, responsible for:
– the product’s vision
– the product’s specifications
– the product schedule
– the product development process
– all implementation trade-offs
– coordination of product development groups
Other roles are a little more obvious but the title Product and Program Manager always seem (to me at least) so difficult to separate that some clarification might be helpful.