Is telecom product management right for me?

Let me guess, so you are on this page because you are either considering a career in product management or you already work in product management and thinking “Is this really the right role for me?” Well, irrespective of why you are here, let’s talk about product management as a career especially if you work in a high-tech industry like mobile communications.

Telecom product management may be right for you if you can work with other stakeholders to understand complex network and device problems, are able to translate those into customer problems, and have the confidence to take ownership and work with others to define short and long term solutions.

Just to set the expectation, the one thing you must keep in mind is that product management is not a straightforward role where everything is specifically defined. You may find websites and tutorials online that may give you an impression that product management is about a set of responsibilities and skills such as roadmaps, business cases, product requirements, strategy, user stories, CX, UX etc. While you may need to know all of these things and more for the day-to-day tasks that you carry out as a product manager, product management roles differ considerably depending on which company or team you work for. If you search for product management roles online, you may come across job titles like these:

  • Product Manager
  • Associate Product Manager
  • Junior Product Manager
  • Senior Product Manager
  • Lead Product Manager
  • Digital Product Manager
  • Strategic Product Manager
  • Technology Product Manager
  • Operational Product Manager
  • Product Owner
  • Product Marketing Manager
  • Product Development Manager
  • Product & Propositions Manager
  • Propositions Manager
  • Senior Propositions Manager
  • Head of Product
  • Head of Products (e.g. a product line)
  • Head of Product Management
  • Product Director
  • Director of Product Management
  • VP of Product
  • VP of Product Management
  • and so on…

You may find many more job titles for a product manager role and we can’t possibly go into the details of each because the roles are not always well defined, and it all depends on the product and the company where the role is. But, what we can do is to help you build a general understanding of how to approach product management roles and how to think of them.

A product manager is generally seen as a business owner which makes the role very central to whatever happens with the product. For example, if you start a business, as the business owner, you would get involved in everything that happens with your business be it technical, commercial, legal or whatever. You don’t have to be an expert at any of these things, but you should still be able to get things done to the desired standard by working with other people. The most important thing for you as a business owner is to take ownership of your business and get things done in the right way. In high-tech industries like mobile communications, you can come across many complexities around technology, regulations, customer needs and therefore you need to be able to work with specialists from various parts of the business in order to successfully launch and manage the product.

Generally, a lot of work goes into launching a product in the mobile communications industry successfully. If you are a product manager, you may find yourself in situations where you have to focus on too many things which can sometimes be difficult. To solve this, many companies introduce multiple variants of this role where each role has a relatively narrower focus e.g. one product manager focuses on the business aspects, while others on the other aspects.

Functional differences

A product manager works with a variety of different functions, for example, technology, sales, finance, marketing, legal, procurement, online etc. Due to the reasons mentioned earlier, it may be that a certain product manager role is closer to one or two of these functions but not all of them. So as an example, there could be a role that sits very close to the marketing and sales teams but still works with technology, legal and others. A role, where a product manager is more inclined towards the marketing aspects of the product such as marketing communications, brochures, videos, campaigns, etc. is more of a product marketing role. Roles like these are sometimes advertised as Product Marketing Manager but they can also be advertised simply as Product Manager.

A role similar to this one is the Propositions Manager role which is centred around the customer offers with a greater focus on the target customers, their problems and why they should buy from your company and not someone else. This role requires building an offer for specific customer segments with the intention to solve their problems whilst making sure that your offer is better than the competition. Every product manager does proposition management to some extent, however, there are products that can support multiple propositions. Proposition Manager roles are more relevant in cases where the product is very mature and all other competitors are offering very similar capabilities. Differentiation, in cases like these, requires a lot of creativity and is based on market research and customer insights.

Product manager roles can sometimes be very close to the technology function where the holder of the role spends most of their time with platform owners, network teams, developers, IT, testers, etc. These roles require a lot of interaction with a highly technical audience and if you don’t recognise yourself as someone who is comfortable with specific technologies, it may not be the most suitable role for you. For example, if you are a product manager for a company specialising in Radio Network optimisation tools, you can expect your key stakeholders to be Networks & IT teams within mobile operators. Without having a background in this area, you may find the role a bit less appealing and maybe a bit challenging also. It is likely for a role like that to be advertised as Product Manager (senior, junior), Operational Product Manager, Technology Product Manager, Product Development Manager, Product Owner or something similar.

If you work in the telecom/ICT industry, you may already know that at least in this industry, companies use Waterfall and Agile methodologies for developing their products. Some companies may even employ a mix of both methodologies. The product management roles that are closer to software development can sometimes appear in job searches as Digital Product Manager roles, and if they are dealing with Agile delivery, then they may appear as Product Owner roles.

Seniority differences

Product management roles can also differ based on where they sit in the overall organisation. In some companies, a Product Manager job title may be used for highly experienced as well as relatively inexperienced product managers. Some companies may have a more hierarchical structure and organise product management roles as associate, junior, senior and principal product managers.

For the more experienced product managers e.g. around five (5) years of product management experience, roles like Senior Product Manager, Head of Product or even Product Director may be more relevant. Remember, just because it says ‘Head’ or ‘Director’ in the role, it doesn’t automatically become an executive role and it may just be a way for a smaller company to advertise roles.

Another interesting role is Strategic Product Manager where the product manager is expected to be more on the ‘vision’ and ‘strategy’ side of the curve and should be able to steer the product in a way such that it is in alignment with the company strategy and vision.

Let’s now talk about product management roles that are more senior and look after multiple products or a line of products. These roles are relatively easier to spot. Firstly, the job titles may be indicative of the seniority level and may use words that refer to a function rather than a product e.g. ‘product management’. But more importantly, the job description may focus on senior responsibilities such as leading product teams, leadership in general, P&L ownership, C-level or board-level interaction etc. Examples could be Head of Product Management, Director of Product Management, VP of Product Management etc. You may also see roles that say Head of XYZ Product but they may be senior roles dealing with a product line instead of just one product. For example, you are likely to see a ‘Head of Core Product’ role or something to that effect within a mobile operator but the holder of this role may oversee a team of product managers managing a range of products.

So, to sum up, the duties involved in a product management role depend on every company and the kind of products they develop. If you are looking for a product management role, it is important to ask questions in order to clarify exactly what the role involves and where it fits in the organisation. If there are any major functional differences in the role as opposed to what you are expecting, it is definitely better to find out sooner than later. We hope that the above information helps you with that because landing a job that isn’t right for you can sometimes be more painful than not getting that job.

Here are some helpful downloads

Thank you for reading this post, I hope it helped you in developing a better understanding of cellular networks. Sometimes, we need some extra support, especially when preparing for a new job, studying a new topic, or maybe just buying a new phone. Whatever you are trying to do, here are some downloads that can help you:

Students & fresh graduates: If you are just starting, the complexity of the cellular industry can be a bit overwhelming. But don’t worry, I have created this FREE ebook so you can familiarise yourself with the basics like 3G, 4G etc. As a next step, check out the latest edition of the same ebook with more details on 4G & 5G networks with diagrams. You can then read Mobile Networks Made Easy, which explains the network nodes, e.g., BTS, MSC, GGSN etc.

Professionals: If you are an experienced professional but new to mobile communications, it may seem hard to compete with someone who has a decade of experience in the cellular industry. But not everyone who works in this industry is always up to date on the bigger picture and the challenges considering how quickly the industry evolves. The bigger picture comes from experience, which is why I’ve carefully put together a few slides to get you started in no time. So if you work in sales, marketing, product, project or any other area of business where you need a high-level view, Introduction to Mobile Communications can give you a quick start. Also, here are some templates to help you prepare your own slides on the product overview and product roadmap.

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