Product Management is especially prone to odd ball tasks that don’t fit neatly in a job description.

I’ll focus specifically on the PM in early stage companies, which is my background. I’m sure other folks can give insights for established companies.

Here are some areas I helped out with during various stages:

  • QA – This is really common when your engineering team doesn’t have money for a QA person.
  • Design – After coming from companies with a full design staff, I was surprised to find myself as the most able designer on the team and helping out with design.
  • Coding – I don’t write a lot of code, but a few of my fellow PMs have occasionally had to jump in on projects to help get projects across the line.
  • Sales story creation – I’ve often found that the product team more clearly understands the value prop and often plays a very active role in crafting the actual sales story and materials.
  • Client service – At one stage in our company the product team helped out with managing customer relationships for a few months until we were able to transition that function to another team.
  • Legal – At times I’ve found myself working with lawyers on patents, contracts and contractor agreements when needed.
  • Operations, Manufacutring, field ops, etc

I think you get the point. The important take away is not necessarily the list above, but rather how varied it is.

Start up companies need vastly different contributions every 3–6 months. As a PM you often are the utility player that can fill many of those key gaps.

But (surprisingly!) that’s actually the easy part.

The real challenge comes when you need to extract yourself from these temporary roles so that you can refocus your time on pure PM tasks. You have to be able let many of those previous tasks drop and force yourself to focus on the NEW most important tasks.

It’s definitely more art than science, but nonetheless a critical skill to master if you plan to work in early stage companies.