Disclosure: I'm currently teaching the first Product Management cohort at BrainStation, a multi-location coding school based here in Toronto, Canada. Though not entirely startup-focused, much of my course content focuses on that context.
Agreed there are lots of answers to this question, and the Quora discussion provides good insights. Here are a few more points:
- Product Management itself is subjective, because it isn't an independent role. Devs, Designers, Financial Analysts, Buyers, even Marketers to a degree, their roles are pretty consistent one company to the next, one product to the next, one industry to the next. But Product Management is all about managing the internal and external relationships that comprise a business and optimizing the information flow within them to make the business successful. It's an orchestration role, not a creation role (though creativity is critical to it!)
- Product Management requires an odd blend of passion and pragmatism. You need to be passionate, thick-skinned and persistent enough to do anything to make your product successful, but at the same time detached enough to be willing to embrace, evangelize and execute change when necessary.
- The role is about empowering all the talented people around you to apply their skills towards executing the business. What information do they need? When and where do they need to be defended, or convinced to think differently? As the Product Manager, you bring market, competitive, business and ecosystem insights to the functions that don't have those insights so they understand why what they're doing matters, and how it fits into business strategy. You also bring an understanding of each function's role relative to others (though this aspect is more relevant in larger companies). To do this job, you need to understand enough about how they all do their work to give them the insights and information in the right way at the right time - and I strongly believe that while the Engineering relationship is critical, it is only *but one* of several.
- Product Managers' thirst for knowledge is never-ending. Be it playing with and understanding the market reaction to and business strategy behind the competition, how each element of the product entices or drives away Users, how the market space may be disrupted by new innovations or how downstream channels are merchandising and positioning the product.
- The RACI framework is critical to understanding powerful product management. You may not be responsible for writing or testing the code, designing the UI, managing the sales funnel, or executing the marketing campaign but you are *accountable* for ensuring it's all done with the information and guidance you provide so that the your vision is realized.
In this way, when I managed a large team of Product Managers at BlackBerry at the height of the company's success, I measured their success on how much they had earned a position of leadership with the functional leaders they worked with. That's the difference. Product Managers who complain "They won't listen to me and won't do what I say" haven't crossed the line between Good and Great, no matter how Good they may be.
Sure, hard skills are useful - technical acumen, industry knowledge, familiarity with wireframing and project management tools, etc etc. But these soft skills and attitude are the distinguishing characteristics.