What exactly does a product manager do?
With the rise of tech startups and digital transformation, this question has been growing in popularity. Product management is often shrouded in mystery, leading many to wonder - what skills does it take to succeed in this role? What does a day in the life of a product manager look like?
In this comprehensive guide, we will demystify product management and provide key insights into this critical job function. You'll learn the key responsibilities of a product manager, how the role varies across companies, the must-have traits of successful PMs, and different paths to getting started in product management.
Whether you're an aspiring PM looking to break into the field or a seasoned professional seeking to refine your craft, this guide will equip you with the knowledge to take your product management career to the next level.
Read on for an in-depth look at what it takes to manage products from conception to delivery and delight customers.
What is product management?
Product management is the process of managing a product from conception to delivery. product managers are responsible for all aspects of the product, including market research, product development, pricing, and promotion. Additionally, product managers work with cross-functional teams to ensure that the product meets the needs of the customer.
Product management is a process that begins with market research. Market research is used to identify customer needs and desires. Once customer needs have been identified, product managers work with cross-functional teams to develop a product that meets those needs. Once the product has been developed, product managers are responsible for pricing, promotion, and distribution.
Product Management is not the same as Product Owner
The product manager is responsible for the product, while the product owner is responsible for the team and the delivery of the product. The product manager is responsible for ensuring that the product meets customer needs, while the product owner is responsible for ensuring that the team meets deadlines and remains agile.
Additionally, the product manager is typically more concerned with marketing and selling the product, while the product owner is more concerned with developing a good product.
The product manager is in charge of the whole product management process, from product vision to roadmapping to backlog management, whereas the product owner is in charge of ensuring that the development team follows the product manager's roadmap and strategy.
The two positions have the same goal: to create a product that customers will enjoy.
History of Product Management
The product management field has its roots in the early days of the software industry. In the early days of software development, there were no product managers. The developers would simply create a product and release it to the market. There was no one responsible for managing the product or ensuring that it met customer needs. This changed in the late 1970s when companies began to realize that they needed someone to manage their product development process.
The first digital product managers were often called "software project managers." They were responsible for managing the development of software products and ensuring that they met customer needs. However, these early product managers did not have a lot of authority within their organizations. They were often seen as second-class citizens by the engineers who developed the products.
This began to change in the early 1990s when the agile software development movement emerged. The agile movement was a response to the traditional, waterfall approach to software development. In the waterfall model, product managers were responsible for gathering requirements from customers, handing them off to engineers, and then waiting for the product to be developed. This often resulted in products that did not meet customer needs.
In contrast, the agile approach advocates for a more collaborative relationship between product managers and engineers. In an agile organization, product managers work closely with engineers to develop products that meet customer needs. This collaboration between product managers and engineers is one of the defining characteristics of the product management field.
Where Product Managers spend their time
Since the development of the "brand man" in the 1930s, who was responsible for a product from beginning to end, product management positions have continued to develop.
And the positions vary by company: smaller organizations may have a single product manager that handles a little bit of everything, but bigger companies often have numerous PMs, some senior and strategic and others specializing in tech, marketing, or operational ownership. Consequently, product managers' priorities vary.
Typical product management focal points include: keeping in contact with consumer demands Product managers often direct an intensive research effort at the beginning of the product lifecycle to segment the market and comprehend the demands of future consumers.
But user involvement doesn't stop there. The most effective product managers maintain regular communication with end-users. They advocate for user requirements inside the organization and modify product priorities depending on ongoing user base discovery.
Defining the product plan and vision
Product managers establish the product vision in light of user research, commercial objectives, and technological feasibility. They establish a plan that outlines the product's primary objectives, anticipates important development milestones, and identifies critical performance indicators.
The product path plan is a vital point of contact between the product and business teams. Successful product roadmaps articulate the product's vision in terms of fundamental business goals.
Product managers must be committed to their plan, but they must also know when to let go. Being too attached to the plan might prevent you from making pivots that keep your product new, current, and useful.
Set reminders to revisit the product roadmap at important junctures, especially when sprints conclude, user testing is conducted, or an inflow of user input is received, and don't be hesitant to make adjustments to better suit user demands.
Aligning and motivating the product team
Different product team roles might result in individuals pulling in opposite directions. Integral to product management is unifying the product team around common objectives.
Iteration and the continuous feedback loop: a novel product lifecycle model
Another, more customer-centric approach to breaking down the product management lifecycle is to utilize it as a springboard for creativity and customer responsiveness.
This is where agile product management enters the picture, facilitating a collaborative, flexible approach for rapid, innovative product solutions.
Examine each phase below.
Phase 1 of the lifecycle: ideation
This lifetime model begins with an idea rather than the release of a product—but where do ideas originate from?
A product lifecycle encompasses several teams, each with a focus on the customer—engineering, marketing, analytics, design—all with a view on customer pain points, potential solutions, and areas of opportunity.
There are probably numerous ideas floating about at any one moment, therefore good cross-functional cooperation is required to bring those ideas to the surface, discuss them, and evaluate them.
Working together leverages the experience of each team, and if all of these teams agree that a project has value potential and there are no obvious reasons not to proceed, you may check to see what users think of it.
Phase 2 of the lifecycle: research and development
Before coming to market, you must verify your concept, which includes testing your idea with potential consumers to ensure a successful launch. Product launches start before the product launch actually happens. Planning early is the key to success.
Take your concept to target audience samples and solicit quantitative and qualitative feedback to answer critical questions such as what modifications may be made and which would have the most impact. Using data to inform decisions at this stage is key – both qualitative and quantitative.
The customer insights you receive will help you prioritize the product backlog, home in on the proper pricing point, and iterate towards a minimal viable product (MVP), which we will discuss next.
Phase 3 of the lifecycle: launch
An agile, iterative product management cycle relies on early market entrance to begin gathering and responding to user input as soon as possible—so the product must be a minimal offering aimed at early adopters at the time of launch.
Anything more, and your development period may be too long and costly, with too many areas of attention when it comes to customer feedback.
Instead, you should focus your development efforts on features that directly meet the user needs discovered during the research phase.
The MVP must:
- Be simple but functional
- Be designed precisely for the prospective user
- Include the features that are required to solve the user's problem
Phase 4 of the lifecycle: feedback, learning, and responding
After you've released your MVP, leverage continuing user input to influence decision-making and mold and reconfigure the product for the user.
Connect your product insights with quantitative data to empathize with your audience, detect problems, or uncover missing opportunities—such as a feature customers desire or find redundant.
You could do this by triggering pop-up surveys at specific points in the customer journey (ask questions like "Did you find what you were looking for?" and "What's the ONE thing missing from this page?"), or by using user behavior analytics tools to monitor how visitors use your site, looking for rage clicks or u-turns, which indicate a broken element or page speed issues.
Feedback from sales teams can be a great place for early insights into what customers want to pay for.
The product management team is continually looking for ways to enhance the product via research and responsiveness via an ongoing feedback loop, which is the essence of continuous discovery—your product evolves with your consumer.
Adding value to the company and the customer throughout the cycle
Creating business and consumer value is a delicate balancing act. Sustained product success is achieved by continually providing and capturing value. Just launching does not lead to product success. You may have a terrific product, but if clients only desire half of the features available, the price point is likely to be too costly, jeopardizing company goals. Product marketing is key at this stage.
If you simplify things too much, people may prefer what they see in a rival.
It's simple: product marketing is essential for ensuring that your product succeeds. Through product marketing, you can communicate the value of your product to customers and stakeholders, create a positioning strategy, and generate demand for your product. Additionally, effective product marketing will help you understand your target market and develop a strong customer base.
So your task is to address the user's problem as efficiently as possible while making the product appealing and exciting—which involves learning from your audience and gaining the necessary buy-in from key stakeholders to act on your discoveries.
A product manager can do this by using a lifecycle model as a foundation for debate and strategic decisions. For example, an agile lifecycle model may be used to show the value of speed when responding to customer input during launch.
When a new feature is released, you must respond swiftly to ensure that your product meets their needs and expectations. Similarly, because you are committed to an ongoing feedback loop, if user numbers suddenly decline within a specific demographic, you will be able to rapidly pinpoint where the deficit is coming from.
You may discover the causes for every change in user behavior using surveys and other product insights, and then solve the issue quickly.
Here are just a few ideas for exceeding consumer expectations and creating a strong brand image:
- Create an easy-to-use product
- Be proactive in resolving user issues
- Provide customization choices for product customization
Create a feeling of community by publishing your roadmap and accepting user suggestions. Encourage a customer-focused culture throughout the product team. Learn about customer joy, how to create it, and how product experience insights tools may help you quantify it here.
Using a product management tool like Airfocus or Productboard can help keep roadmaps in one place. Provide additional resources in your company or team wiki.
However, the constant component throughout any product management lifecycle, and the only way to ensure you're adding value, is to always enhance your product through empathizing with the customer.
7 fundamental product management methods
There is no one approach to handle a product. That is why this section refers to "product management methods" (plural, not one).
Product managers' typical methods often include:
1. Identifying the problem to be solved
The first stage is to identify which user pain points your solution might be able to alleviate. User feedback, challenges with the tools you offer, holes in the market, or corporate objectives and goals may all inspire new ideas.
Many product managers uncover significant issues through listening to other stakeholders, such as business departments and other product teams.
2. Examining the issue
Product managers then begin to consider commercial objectives.
They conduct user interviews and competitive analysis to determine how fixing the problem identified in the first phase will help their product satisfy user objectives, such as customer joy, and organizational goals, such as profitability.
Product managers seek to solve questions such as:
- What is the size of the opportunity for this problem?
- Will people be willing to pay for answers to this problem?
- What are the existing solutions?
- Do they have any effect?
3. Experiment with potential solutions
Once the proper problem has been identified, product managers collaborate with their teams to produce product solution ideas.
Before determining which solution to focus on, they will do more user research, gather feedback, and show wireframes or models to assess the potential value and practicality of several concepts.
4. Developing a solution
After identifying a feasible solution, it's time to create a clear product vision.
Product managers should also develop a clear strategy and begin establishing KPIs to track progress.
5. Obtain cross-functional support
Convincing stakeholders from other departments to support and dedicate resources to your product ideas is an important aspect of product management.
Before proceeding with the product strategy, product managers often submit their vision and roadmap to CEOs and other decision-makers for approval.
6. Create a Minimum Viable Product
The following phase is to develop a minimal viable product (MVP). This entails developing a rudimentary version of the product and releasing it to the market to test its functioning. PMs can change the solution and tweak the product positioning based on feedback from the product's early consumers.
7. Focus execution
Finally, the product manager guides the development and technical teams through the process of putting the product vision into action.Most product teams employ agile methodology, which implies that this will be a succession of various product sprints and iterations with testing in between.
After the final product is delivered, the product manager's duty switches to market positioning, obtaining user input, and prioritizing work in the product backlog to ensure defects are resolved and new features are implemented.
The role behind Product Management
A product manager is a professional who is responsible for the strategy and execution of products. They work with teams to understand customer needs and translate them into product requirements. Additionally, product managers should have a strong understanding of agile methodology and be able to lead product teams to success.
Let's dive into what makes a great product manager.
What makes a great Product Manager?
Product management demands a unique combination of hard and soft talents. The following are the attributes that prospective PMs should strive for:
The greatest project managers establish a strong awareness of the organization's goals and absorb information from a variety of sources, including users, developers, and business partners.
They don't make decisions on the spur of the moment.
Instead, they meticulously analyze facts, consider the larger picture, and lead strategically. Excellent product managers avoid becoming so engrossed in operations that they are unable to zoom out and get tactical.
Empathy for the user
There is no replacement for listening to your users and genuinely caring about their experience. Outstanding product managers constantly strive to go one step beyond.
They go beyond evaluating their consumers' behavior to uncover their true underlying demands.
Readiness to fail
Successful project managers foster a culture in which all team members are prepared to question their preconceptions.
Rather of becoming obsessed on specific products, projects, or roadmaps, the greatest product managers employ important user research approaches to communicate with consumers on a regular basis and test their assumptions.
Strong project managers aren't hesitant to shift direction when required, even if it means going back on previous work or admitting that their vision wasn't right on.
A product manager is only as good as the people on their team.
Top product managers enable the product team to own the product roadmap by including them in critical product decisions, listening to their concerns and ideas, and making them feel appreciated.
The most effective product managers are persistent champions for their product team inside the business.
They eliminate impediments and ensure they have the resources they need to execute well.
Outstanding communication abilities
It should be obvious by now that communication is essential in product management. PMs are continually delivering the product story to a variety of stakeholders and relaying business information to the product team.
Product management superstars provide information to various audiences in a brief, accurate, and effective manner. They match the medium to the message and understand which issues demand a full team meeting and which can be addressed via email or video.
Importantly, good product managers understand what is essential to the many stakeholders with whom they speak. They personalize their messaging to their audience's primary goals, and they back up their communications with user and business data.
Becoming a Product Manager
If you're interested in becoming a product manager, there are a few things you should know. First, it's important to have a solid understanding of both business and technology. As a product manager, you'll need to be able to understand the needs of customers and translate them into technical requirements for engineers. Additionally, you should have some experience working with agile methodology. While not required, it will give you a leg up in the product management field.
There are a few different ways to become a product manager. The most common is to get a job in product management. Many companies have product management positions that you can apply for. Alternatively, you can become a product manager by starting your own company. This is often the route taken by people who are passionate about product management and want to have complete control over their product development process.
No matter which route you take, becoming a product manager requires hard work and dedication. However, it can be an incredibly rewarding career path. If you're interested in making an impact and developing products that customers love, then product management may be the right career for you.
A Rewarding Journey and Career
Product management is a multifaceted role that demands a unique blend of business acumen, technical knowledge, and soft skills.
Though every company has its own approach, at its core product management revolves around deeply understanding users, strategically guiding product vision and execution, and rallying cross-functional teams to bring delightful products to life.
By maintaining a user-centric mindset, thinking critically, communicating effectively, and embracing iteration, aspiring product managers can develop the capabilities needed to thrive.
There are many potential paths to getting started in the field, from formal PM roles to founding a startup.
For those willing to work hard and wear many hats, product management offers the opportunity to make a real impact on product success and shape the experiences of customers.
Though the work is challenging, it's an incredibly rewarding way to bridge the gap between technology and business and bring innovative ideas to fruition.