While you will meet an increasing number of people with the title Product Manager, you will be forgiven for still being a little bit vague on what a Product Manager actually does.
Ask 20 different Product Managers the same question, and you can expect to receive 20 different answers. This is partly because the job title is relatively new as far as job titles go, but also because what is actually expected of Product Managers varies significantly.
The Job Description of a Product Manager
On the most basic level, Product Managers are responsible for ensuring that a product is successful.
This involves understanding the priorities of the business and the needs of the customers and balancing them by creating products that people will want to use and will make money for the business; if that is the aim of the business. I don’t say that in jest. Philanthropic organizations, medical and educational charities, and so forth may have very different aims that pure profit.
But what that looks like in practice depends on a lot of different factors such as the type of product, the size of the business that owns a product, whether the product is new or existing, and so forth.
Imagine the following scenarios:
● A young entrepreneur has an idea for an innovative dating app. The first person that he gets on board to make his idea a reality is a Product Manager.
● Apple has an opening on their team to manage their existing iTunesU platform.
● Huawei is getting ready to develop its next generation of smartphones and wants someone on board to help them upgrade their signature camera hardware and application.
● An existing Product Manager for a local but popular ride-sharing service sees an opportunity to introduce new food delivery service targeted specifically at the local community.
It is not hard to see how the required function of the Product Manager would be quite different in each of these circumstances. But more on this later…
Role of the Product Manager
So, accepting that what Product Managers do and how they do it depends on a lot of different factors, what are the main tasks of a Product Manager?
Understand the business and the market
Naturally, a Product Manager should have a good understanding of their business and its priorities and should have a firm grasp of the overall market in which it sits.
It is only with this knowledge that Product Managers can identify potential gaps in the market that might be a good match for their company and its priorities.
Product Managers also need to maintain a constant awareness of what their competitors are doing. Imagine being a live streaming service. In order to remain competitive, you would want to know exactly when your competitors are introducing new features such as temporary downloading for watching offline, or an overlay screen so that users can continue watching while doing other things on their device.
This is generally known as industry or sector knowledge and comes from networking and research within the industry.
Understand the needs of the users
Products are successful when they meet the needs and wants of a user, and when a user wants to use the product. Thus, the Product Manager needs to understand their existing and/or potential users.
If the Product Manager is working on a new product, they should have a good grasp of the problem that potential users would solve using the proposed product. If they are managing an existing product, they will need to know what users like about the product, what they don’t like about it, and what additional features might be of interest to the user.
How the Product Manager will do this will depend on various factors. For example, if they are working on a business to business (B2B) product, they will probably spend a considerable amount of time trying to understand the detailed and specific needs of a limited number of key users. If they are working on a business to consumer (B2C) product, they will likely need to be more creative, coming up with ideas with a broader use and appeal.
Product Managers learn this kind of information through analyzing user data and talking to users through surveys, focus groups, and so forth. Whether the Project Manager will do this hands-on research themselves or delegate to a team depends mostly on the size and resources of the organization that they worked for. Going back to our list of scenarios, you can imagine that our Product Manager at Apple has access to a large and professional user insights team. Meanwhile, our Product Manager that has just joined our entrepreneur will need to do much of this work themselves.
Define the vision of the product
Based on the priorities of the business and the needs of the customer, the Product Manager needs to develop a vision for the product.
For our Product Manager working with the entrepreneur, this might be a vision that lists the special features that the new dating app will include that will differentiate it from the rest of the market and make it more attractive to its target audience.
For our Project Manager working Apple on iTunes, it might be a vision for transforming the platform from one where potential students can only access the content of an educational institution as an isolated and complete resource to one where students and mix and match units from various courses to create their own, individualized learning journeys.
Developing this kind of vision requires a good grasp of the technology, what is possible, and how much it will cost to create. The Project Manager needs to know that the vision is both technically possible, and achievable within the resources of the business. The vision needs to be something that can be realized.
Get stakeholders on board with product vision
Once the Product Manager has a product vision, they must sell that vision to various stakeholders. This is not always as easy as it sounds.
The Product Manager must sell the vision to the business, the product owners. This is not always simple, as perhaps the vision developed by the Product Manager does not align with the vision that the business imagined. The Product Manager needs to have evidence-based conversations with these stakeholders to explain why this vision was chosen, why it will be more appealing for users, and why it will bring greater success for the business.
Product Managers also often need to sell this vision to people that will work on the project. This is because Product Managers are often people within the business that has responsibility, but not authority. The development, design, marketing, and other teams that will work on the product do not work for the Product Manager, so they will need to compete with other priorities to make their work a priority. This can be vital as often the window of opportunity to capitalize on a user’s need before competitors are small.
Prioritize product features and capabilities
Once the Product Manager has the stakeholders onside and the resources that they need to work on the product, it is up to them to prioritize the features of the product and ensure that those priorities are met without scope creep.
The essential requirements of the user cannot be missed, and the budget cannot be wasted on features that the developers like but make little difference to the overall user experience.
This is something that the Product Manager needs to keep on top of throughout the development process of the product of its features.
Exactly what role the Product Manager will play in the development process depends on the set up of the organization. In small organizations, they may find themselves playing the dual role of Product Manager and Project Manager, while in other instances they will hand off the development phase to a Project Manager and just work closely with the project team to ensure that the required features are delivered and the needs of the user met.
Create and own the product roadmap
The Product Manager is also the owner of the Product RoadMap. This is a document that lays out the vision for the product, not only after its launch of the next phase of development but in the long-term. It already looks forward to future rounds of development, improvement, and expansion of the product once the current round of developments has been a success.
This is a living document that is updated regularly as the product develops, the market changes, and new user needs are identified. It is an essential document for both communicating with stakeholders and planning for the future.
Although each product manager has a different set of responsibilities, their titles and the career path of a PM stay the same.
Make use of various Tools
After all the tasks we have mentioned, you might have guessed that the life of a product manager is not an easy one.
By utilizing different tools, however, they can make it easier. Most businesses will also require them to use certain tools.
Here is our list of product management tools to get you started.
Skills of the Product Manager
One thing that is clear, is that the role of the Product Manager is highly varied and requires a wide range of skills. Some of the key skills that companies will be looking for in a Product Manager include:
● Analytical – they need to be able to look at research and data and identify trends, gaps, and opportunities
● Empathetic – they need to be able to put themselves in the shoes of the user
● Strategic Thinker – they need to be able to prioritize high-potential ideas
● Technical Understanding – while they are unlikely to be building anything themselves, they need to know what is possible, and the effort that will required to achieve it
● Excellent Communication – they need to be able to sell the product vision to different stakeholders using language appropriate for the audience and the moment
Read our Skills a Product Manager Should Have article for further information and detailed explanations.
Anyone who has been working on products for any amount of time will tell you that good products don’t just happen, and just because you make something cool doesn’t mean that anyone will use it.
Good Product Managers bridge the gap between a great idea and a great product by marrying the priorities of the business and the needs of the user and ensuring that both a met in a mutually beneficial way.
Frequently Asked Questions
Who is a Product Manager?
A Product Manager is someone who is job is to manage every aspect of the product from development to customer service, ensuring the product’s success.
Why is Product Management important?
As Product Managers ensure the internal teams of a company are aligned under the same vision, they maximize the chances of a product’s success.
What is the role of the Product Manager?
A product manager is supposed to ensure the product’s success by building a long-term vision and passing this vision to stakeholders, team members, and users.