The word is out. Tech companies are seeking Product Managers (PMs) to lead their products to greatness. Given its popularity, it is no surprise that many people are asking themselves the same question.
But what a Product Manager does is not so easy to define, even within organizations who have product teams! This is partly because the role is quite fluid, with each company having a different interpretation of the skills required and the function of the role.
So let’s try to answer the question; what does a Product Manager do?
What is a Product Manager?
A Product Manager sits at the intersection between business and technology, and works 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 superiors.
That makes the job sound simple, but sitting at the intersection involves a whole host of tasks, tools, relationships, and strategies. And meetings. Always plenty of meetings!
Product Managers are often confused with Project Managers, but that’s not quite true. The main difference lies in the amount of responsibility and accountability these two roles entail. If someone goes seriously wrong during product development, the buck usually stops with the Product Manager.
A common analogy for a PM is that they’re the CEO of the product, but that’s not quite right either. People use this analogy mostly because both CEOs and PMs have a broad overview of their company/product. They both work with cross-functional teams, hold the company/product vision, and are ultimately responsible for the company/product.
But calling a PM a CEO bestows them with power that they just don’t have. If an engineer disagrees with the PM, the PM has to use their influence and not their authority to change their mind.
Around here, we like to 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.
What Does a Product Manager Do?
While there’s no such thing as a typical day-to-day in product management, the role of Product Manager will usually include the following:
Strategic Work: PMs lead the strategic side of a product from the development to deployment. They collaborate with leaders in business from sales to marketing to operations to development. This is the key thing people answer when they are asked the question:
Tactical / Execution Work: PMs facilitate the product life cycle from inception to release and they analyze the results to measure success.
Meetings: PMs delegate work, give quick overviews on how on track the team is, present the final product, share key insights, and more through meetings. This just goes to show how important communication is as a Product Manager.
Management: A PM keeps the entire team on track. They must make sure that the engineers, designers, and the sales & marketers are all working in unison with each other.
Communicating with Seniors: PMs regularly give status updates to their superiors. A good PM is able to take a roadblock and turn it into a insight or an opportunity.
Talking to Customers: A good PM knows the market and its customers and will always have the users in mind. A good PM will always look for feedback from users to know how hot or not the new product or feature is.
Working with Consultants & Vendors: When working with a new vendor or a consultant, PMs must be in the loop on what the vendors what 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
When we ask seasoned product experts what they look for when hiring a new PM to the team, answers vary depending on who is doing the hiring. But everyone seems to be in agreement that hard skills and technical know-how can all be learned on the job. All it takes is a willingness to learn and a hunger for building great products.
If you’re worried about getting into Product Management because you don’t have a CS degree, check out 5 Product Management Myths…Busted!
Typical Product Manager Job Descriptions
The quickest way to get a snapshot of what Product Managers at big tech companies do, is to look at some generic PM job descriptions. It’s good to familiarize yourself with what, in general, companies are looking for.
We’ve linked to the best places to find Product Management job descriptions for Facebook, Spotify, and Apple.
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 which 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 which 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.
You may also be interested in: Is Product Management For You?
How to Get Started
To get started either learning more about Product Management, or preparing for your first PM role, click on which statement best applies to you. And good luck!