What Does a Product Manager Do?
A million dollar question is finally answered, and by Product Managers too! Read on to learn the definition of this nebulous term and decide whether this is the perfect role for you.
Perhaps the real question is what does a Product Manager not do? Depending on factors like the industry and the size of the company, Product Managers perform a wide range of activities and naturally there will be some peculiarities depending on the specific company but ultimately, the qualities and tasks of a product manager remain the same.
The ‘product’ in ‘Product Manager’ is any item or service produced, marketed and sold by or on behalf of the company, made available as a result of customer demands, to meet the customers’ needs. The product can be physical or even virtual. Product Management on the other hand, is the process of planning, developing, launching and managing this product or service.
The Product Manager is the person responsible for the overall execution of these goals. The planning, developing, launching and managing process mentioned above, summarily, the entire lifecycle of the product are all set in motion and overseen by the Product Manager.
It is the responsibility of the Product Manager to discern the customer’s exact vision, to strategize, create a roadmap and mobilize all relevant teams to perform their roles. The job of the Product Manager continues even after the product is launched as products often need to be monitored and improved upon from time to time.
The Product Manager bounces around the company between development teams, design, marketing and all other teams fundamental to the development process, to ensure that everyone is on the same page, that the needs of the customer are met and that all things are working according to the stipulated timeline, all while bringing value to the company.
Product Management is not to be confused with Project Management, its not-so-distant relative. The latter is more concerned with individual projects within the product life cycle than the overall vision of the product which is the concern of the product manager.
It is not an overestimation to say that the Product Manager is the lifeline of the product development process as they pretty much hold the reins of the entire process from conception until post-delivery. They liaise with all stakeholders, and stand at the intersection of teams, customers and stakeholders, providing reasons, ideas, and solutions all to “discover a product that is valuable, usable and feasible” according to Marty Cagan, the author of Inspired: How To Create Products Customers Love.
There are numerous qualities that a Product Manager needs to possess to be able to do their job effectively- whether these qualities are innate or learnt over time, what matters is that they’re there.
The Product Manager needs to be empathetic, result-driven, patient, possess good leadership skills, intelligent. customer-obsessed, good at communication,swift to identify needs, problem-solving, and a critical thinker.
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However, what better way is there to gain a complete understanding of what exactly a Product Manager does than to hear from the horse’s mouth - seasoned Product Managers themselves. So we had a few Product Managers tell us the role of a Product Manager based on their experiences. Read below:
“The role of a product manager is a combination of being a detective (because they’re curious and good at discovering things about people); a quarterback (because they’re able to look around and recognise opportunities others don’t see); a stitcher (because they’re good at connecting the dots between disciplines, teams, global trends and personal expertise); an optimiser (because they can understand all the pieces of the puzzle, notice gaps and how to fill them); and an empath (because they’re human-centered and they relate deeply with people & their experiences)” – Lisa Zane
“The Product Manager’s job is to pull everyone together and figure it out, quickly and efficiently as a team. It’s also to adjudicate, negotiate, and get a consensus while making sure that people are heard”. – Sam Legge
“The Product Manager is the one who drives all the initiatives and talks to customers; sets the vision and the strategy and creates the roadmap; influences engineers and designers and carries out the user research” – Diego Granados
“As a type of Product Manager, I work with stakeholders and focus on go-to market strategies. I analyze the value proposition of the product and best marketing channels for them. Then I work with the sales team to equip them with knowledge via trainings and support materials to make sure they can deliver the product to the users”- Alex Quyen Le
“The role of any Product Manager really, is to get the voices and opinions that are happening from the design point of view, tech point of view and even the business point of view. To determine whether the product is feasible to build and to come up with what direction the team should go in.” – Dominic Stephenson
“A Product Manager owns everything yet controls nothing that’s why their major role is influencing without authority” –Jae Taylor
“The primary responsibility of the product manager is to advocate for the customer and bridge gaps. In whatever sector they’re in, they must bridge the gap between the industry, the teams and the customers. The PM must understand the product, product goals and customer.” – Aniththa Umamahesan
“When I worked as a Product Manager, my job was to get stakeholder management input and advocate for the user. I had to keep up communication between the team and the external stakeholders, updating them along the way and ensuring that the website we were working on aligned with their needs. I was also responsible for keeping the team on track, supporting them and setting deadlines” – Rachel Siu
The Product Manager sits at the intersection of solving consumer problems, with technology and doing it as part of a business. As part of the day-to-day tasks, first you’re a coach saying “I want us to win this match by this many goals”, yet you’re not even playing in the game. You’re setting a vision and empowering the players who include engineers, designers, data scientists, marketing etc to do their part. The other part, is the job of the unblocker. How do you moderate differing opinions and shield your team from negative results, or how do you handle work which noone wants to do. These are the sort of issues your work involves.” - Pritika Goyal
The Product Managers quoted above work in all sorts of companies from startups to Google to mixed reality spaces, each of which bring a different flavor of Product Management requirements to the table. As we mentioned earlier, the ingredients are basically the same, it’s the soup you decide to make with it that differs.
You might have noticed that some points kept repeating themselves across these definitions. For one, customer, customer, customer. The Product Manager should be customer-obsessed. It is the customer that determines whether all of the work that you've done is worth it or not. The customer is the most important part of the product.
It’s a complex job, but also pretty doable once you get the hang of it. Plus, it definitely is nice being integral to the process of developing something so completely.
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