Product School

What is a Product Manager

Product Managers guide the success of a product by leading a cross-functional team, defining product vision, planning its roadmap, and working with stakeholders to deliver value to customers. Their guiding mission is to give customers an excellent product experience.

The Role of a Product Manager

What does a Product Manager do?

Engineers build the product. Designers make sure it’s usable and looks great. Sales and marketing make sure people know about it and buy it. So what do Product Managers do? 

In many ways, a Product Manager’s role can be likened to that of an orchestra conductor. Product Managers work with different teams and key players to help everyone bring their unique skills together to create an amazing experience for the audience. In order to do this, a Product Manager’s role is multifaceted and includes a wide range of responsibilities. 

First and foremost, Product Managers (PMs) must consistently engage in open and effective communication with key stakeholders to ensure everyone is aligned on the product vision, roadmap, and specific goals. The work of a PM also includes project management to monitor the progress of product development and ensure that the team stays on track with their deliverables.

Once the product has been shipped, Product Managers are also responsible for tracking and analyzing key performance indicators to evaluate if the product is meeting its goals and delivering the intended value. 

This is by no means an exhaustive list. As a versatile player in the team, Product Managers are often called to fill in wherever needed, whether it's in design discussions, marketing strategy, or even troubleshooting technical issues. In essence, a Product Manager is a connector, facilitator, problem solver, and analyst, all rolled into one.

It’s also important to know that the role of a Product Manager can differ greatly between companies and there are several types of Product Managers out there. 

What are the different types of Product Managers?

General: This is the most flexible type of Product Manager, who should have the tools and skills to handle a wide variety of situations.  

Technical: A Technical Product Manager should have awesome engineering chops as this is a person working on a highly-technical product.

Project-Focused: A Project-Focused Product Manager owns a schedule and might help with bug prioritization, rather than focusing on the vision/overall plan and goals.

Growth: A Growth Product Manager focuses less on the life of a product and more on improving a certain business metric.  

A Product Manager is expected to wear many hats, so you may find that your role doesn’t fit neatly into one of the above categories. That’s just part of the fun of being a Product Manager. You never know what to expect!

What is the skill set of a Product Manager?

Product thinking is holistic thinking and is enhanced by a wide skill set. This means that you can literally transition from any career into Product Management.

For instance, a background in customer service is valuable because Product Managers need to empathize with users to identify their needs, behaviors, and pain points, and then translate those insights into product requirements. 

Other skills that are prized in a Product Manager include:

  • strategic thinking – which helps to set a direction for the product; 

  • problem-solving – to overcome roadblocks in product development; 

  • leadership – to guide a cross-functional team towards a common goal;

  • excellent communication – vital to effectively conveying the product vision and updates to all stakeholders. 

It also helps to have a good understanding of technology and business strategy, though it’s not a prerequisite.

Why are Product Managers important?

Product Managers play a pivotal role in any company. They drive the product's vision and roadmap, ensuring that it not only meets the needs of the market but also aligns with the company's strategic goals. 

They also act as a bridge between the technical and business aspects of a product, interpreting market demand and transforming it into product features. Moreover, they make critical decisions around product pricing, positioning, and marketing. 

Their role is integral to creating products that offer value to customers, meet market needs, and in turn, drive the company's success.

Which industries need Product Managers?

Almost every industry, from technology to healthcare, from finance to retail, needs Product Managers. In the tech industry, PMs may manage digital products like software applications, platforms, or services. In finance, they might oversee the development of new banking products or investment tools. In healthcare, they could manage the rollout of new medical devices or digital health solutions. Retail companies need PMs to develop and manage products ranging from e-commerce platforms to in-house product lines. 

Essentially, any industry that offers a product or a service to customers needs Product Managers to guide those products from the concept stage to the market, ensuring that they are viable, market-ready, and capable of delivering value to both the business and the customer.

How do you become a Product Manager?

There’s no “right way” to break into a career in product management. Everyone arrives from a different path and brings their unique skill set with them. 

Because a Product Manager’s role is so diverse, you’re very likely to be doing at least one thing that is a core responsibility of a PM. For instance, if you have a marketing background, you’re likely well-versed in communicating customer value. If you’re an engineer you’ll have experience building to customer requirements. And if you work in customer support you probably have ace problem-solving skills. 

Many aspiring PMs undertake Product Management certification programs to boost their skills, deepen their understanding of the role and give them practical Product Management experience. Mentorship from existing Product Managers who can share practical insights and guidance is also incredibly beneficial to anyone who wants to become a Product Manager.

What is the Product Manager Career Ladder?

Broadly speaking, we can visualize the career ladder of a Product Manager divided into a flight of six stairs, with each step representing a different role with increasing responsibility and influence.

Level 1: As an Associate Product Manager, your role is to support senior product managers, diving into market research, assisting with product development, strategy, and helping to define product requirements and roadmaps. Here, you work closely with cross-functional teams to bring products to life.

Level 2: As a Product Manager, you're in the driver's seat, leading the development and execution of product strategies and roadmaps. Your understanding of the market and the ability to synthesize customer feedback enables you to identify opportunities and trends. Collaboration is key as you work with various teams to ensure successful product launches.

Level 3: The Senior Product Manager role allows you to amplify your impact. You'll oversee the overall product strategy and vision, manage multiple product lines, and lead the development of roadmaps. Your analytical skills are put to the test as you mine market trends and customer feedback to identify and seize new opportunities.

Level 4: Stepping up as a Lead or Group Product Manager, your strategic influence broadens. You'll manage a team of product managers, guiding and mentoring them toward success. Collaborating with executive leadership, you'll align product strategy with business goals, while continually identifying new opportunities for growth.

Level 5: As a Principal Product Manager, your vision sets the tone for the entire organization's product strategy. Leading a team and multiple product-related functions, you'll work closely with top-level leadership to align strategy and business goals. You'll be the driving force behind innovation, leading the charge in developing new products and technologies.

Level 6: Finally, the role of Director of Product Management is the culmination of all previous responsibilities, with the added mandate of mentoring and coaching your team, reviewing team processes, and strategically delegating assignments. This is the position where your leadership can significantly shape the entire organization's product direction.

Remember, each company may have variations in these titles and responsibilities. Some might have more levels, while others might have fewer. Some might use different titles entirely. But the essence remains the same - a Product Manager’s career ladder is about growing your personal expertise and influence within the product field.

Getting a product promotion can be difficult, which is why many find it helpful to deepen their knowledge and sharpen their skill set with a Product Leader Certification (PLC)™ led by experienced product leaders.

Product Manager term in action

Hiring our first product manager was pivotal to the success of our new banking application.

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