Think about a company for a second; Engineers build the product, Designers handle aesthetics and user experience, Marketing makes sure customers know about the product, Sales gets potential customers to open their wallets to buy the product. What more does a company need? Where does a product manager fit into that mix?
Within those simple questions lie the confusion and opportunity that is Product Management. If you’re pivoting into Product Management, these questions might make you worry that the role is irrelevant. And if you are currently a Product Manager, you might feel a sudden need to justify your existence. Truthfully, without a Product Manager, a company will continue to operate pretty well—to a point. Yet with a strong Product Manager, a company can become great.
So let’s try to answer the question; what does a Product Manager do?
Who is a Product Manager?
A Product Manager sits at the intersection between business and technology- working as the middle person between the two. Their function is to translate business goals to the engineering teams and to report on product development progress to stakeholders.
That makes the job sound simple, but sitting at the intersection involves a host of tasks, tools, relationships, and strategies. And meetings. Always plenty of meetings!
I will rather think of a PM as the conductor of an orchestra. They may know how to play a few instruments, but they can’t play them all! Instead, they guide the musicians to make the symphony.
Who is a product manager
Ironically, the thing a PM does the most is to say “No.” Product managers do not just dictate what features to build, they also manage ideas to be in line with research and consumer wants, as opposed to what designers and engineers want. For example, an engineer who spends her days using cryptic command-line tools probably prefers keyboard shortcuts, dislikes graphical user interface, and favors using code to specify meaning. Now, imagine that engineer is part of a team working on an iPad word processor for elderly people. Do you think the features the engineer would prioritize match what the customers need?
A large part of a PM’s job is to figure out the small number of key features to prioritize for the customer and to lay the groundwork for long-term business viability by gracefully saying “no” to the numerous requests that don’t fit the customer’s needs.
Day to day, PMs must understand both business strategy and execution. They must first figure out who the customers are and what problems the customers have. They must know how to set a vision, finding the right opportunities in a sea of possibilities, by using both data and intuition. They must know how to define success, for the customer and the product, by prioritizing customer research over assumption.
They must work with engineers and designers to get the right product built, keeping it as simple as possible while also working with marketing to explain to the customer how the product fills the customer’s need better than a competitor’s product. They must do whatever’s needed to help ship the product, even if it means getting coffee for a team that’s working long hours,e to boost morale.
What Does a Product Manager Do?
There no ‘typical’ day in the life of a PM, tasks are flexible and dependent on the stage of product development. However, the role of a Product Manager will usually include the following:
Strategy: PMs lead mapping out of product deployment. They collaborate with leaders in business from sales to marketing to operations to development.
Research: A good PM knows the market and its customers and will always have the users in mind. A good PM always gathers feedback from users to know how hot or not the new product or feature is.
Tactical / Execution Work: PMs facilitate the product life cycle from inception to release and they analyze the results to measure success.
Communication: PMs delegate work, give quick overviews on how on track the team is, present the final product, share key insights with relevant stakeholders from top to bottom. A good PM can take a roadblock and turn it into an insight or an opportunity, showing the relevance of great communication skills.
Management: A PM keeps the entire team on track. They must make sure that the engineers, designers, as well as sales & marketing teams, are all working in unison.
Working with Consultants & Vendors: When working with a new vendor or a consultant, PMs must be in the loop on what the vendors want to change or what new system they are implementing.
Product Manager Skills
Like most jobs, we can split the Product Manager skillset into hard and soft skills:
- Data analysis
- Market research
- Roadmap planning and prioritization
- UX/UI design knowledge
- Technical knowledge
- Agile product development
- A/B testing
- Interpersonal skills
- Communication and storytelling
- Creative thinking
- Influence without authority
The Path to Product
Before Product Management started to go mainstream, many people found themselves falling into it almost accidentally. They found themselves entering into a role that required all of these skills and involved all of these daily tasks and then discovered that what they were doing was called Product Management.
That’s not so much the case nowadays, as the demand for Product Management keeps on growing worldwide. People know what it is, and they’re going for it!
But, as we like to say, all paths lead to Product. It doesn’t matter where you got your start, or what you’ve been doing in recent years. There will surely be transferable skills that you’ve picked up along the way that are suited to a Product Management role. Having a product team with a variety of backgrounds actually strengthens an organization and has a positive impact on the products it builds.