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  • Writer's pictureDiane Pierson

Product Management According to Yellowstone

What's the difference between a product manager and a Market Strategist? A short exchange from the series Yellowstone explains it.

I'm going all the way back to the pilot episode. Specifically, a 30-second exchange between the oldest son of the Dutton ranching clan, Lee, and his father, Yellowstone patriarch John Dutton. [Spoiler alert!]

Product management product marketing and innovation with Yellowstone

There's a Difference Between Workin' It and Runnin' It

Oldest of the Dutton children, heir apparent and his father's favorite, Lee was killed in the pilot and rarely referred to afterward. But a discussion between Lee and John had me tapping into my Notes app.

The scene: John was frustrated with Lee for mishandling a dustup involving cattle, bad guys and a lot of gorgeous scenery. It went as follows:

John: "Dammit Lee, you're supposed to be runnin' things now."

Lee: "I am runnin' it, dad!"

John: "No. You're not. There's a difference between workin' it and runnin' it."

Yes! It's the difference between a product manager and a Market Strategist.

There's Workin' It

Lee worked hard, but his wranglers (read: cross-functional team) were hesitant to follow him because they weren't sure what he was asking them to do or why it needed to be done. Lee wasn't sure either; he needed constant direction from his father (read: manager). He implemented decisions well, but he wasn't making them. Lee worked long hours, often doing the work of others in addition to what he saw as his responsibilities. Lee was workin' it hard.

And There's Runnin' It

What John needed was someone who could take over the ranch when he passed on - a fate that seemed imminent in the pilot. He needed someone who could weigh a wide variety of opportunities and needs - some directly counter to others - against a smaller number of resources, make hard choices and communicate the rationale behind them. He needed someone to shape the Yellowstone Dutton Ranch so that it would continue hold a singular place in a changing world (read: market). He needed someone to run it.

Runnin' It: The Market Strategist

There's a difference between workin' it and runnin' it. Every enterprise needs good people to do both - you can't be successful without both. In many tech companies, there's confusion around whether the product manager should be workin' it or runnin' it. It's up to you to find out.

If you're charged with discovering the most urgent needs of a defined market and enabling your team to understand those needs well enough solve them, you're a Market Strategist. That means understanding your organization's vision and the role you play in achieving it. It means using all the tools at your disposal to win in the market; not only product features. It means sharing context to inspire the work of others, not doing it all yourself.

Workin' it means getting it done. Runnin' it means figuring out and sharing what needs to be done and why. It means keeping the team focused. It means innovating on purpose.

About the Author

Diane Pierson is the Founder and Principal Market Strategist of Innovate on Purpose, a consultancy enabling successful product innovation for tech companies through strategic focus and powerful go-to-market strategies. Diane is also a visiting instructor at Pragmatic Institute. Contact Diane at


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