Product management is an industry role that has become increasingly prevalent over the last few years. As the name implies, product managers (PMs) work with every stage of the product’s lifecycle, from its creation to execution. This may involve brainstorming new products or new features for existing products, working with the engineering teams to execute that vision, and then making sure that the product continues to function in its intended role. On a day-to-day basis, PMs are conducting user research, working with the design and development teams, brainstorming product marketing, and collaborating across cross-functional teams.
Product management is important because it exists at the intersection of many different areas of a business. Individuals in this space have to routinely work with engineers, designers, managers, and user experience teams to ensure that the product’s vision is uniform and understood across the organization.
What Does a Product Manager Actually Do?
The role of a product manager will be different depending on the industry and product; however, there are some tasks that are universal. PMs are the “product owners” because they have responsibility for a product and work closely with every part of the company tasked with releasing and maintaining a successful product.
Market and Product Research
PMs are hired, in part, because of their expertise in a certain industry and product. This is necessary because it allows them to see the entire lifecycle of a product and plan accordingly. They need a solid understanding of the competition, market innovation, major players, and the industry’s financial health. This is also important because they’re better able to preempt and respond to customer feedback, both positive and negative.
Defines the Product Roadmap
The PM is in charge of laying out the workflow for a project, including the specificities of features, the work distribution across different teams, and timelines for release. Basically, PMs are tasked with making sure that each part of the business is working on the right things at the right time and in the right order. Product strategy is important because it provides everyone in the organization with a map to success and a unified vision.
Analyze Customer Needs and Collect Feedback
In order to release the best product possible, PMs must interact often with customers to get feedback and identify pain points. With market knowledge and this feedback, the product managers will be able to anticipate future issues and interpret the feedback that they do get. PMs need to fully understand why the customers are buying–or not buying–their product (or a similar product) and what could make it better.
Testing the Product
After developing a beta version of the product, PMs are also responsible for testing it, identifying potential problems, and coming up with solutions. Through data analysis and customer surveys, the success of the product will be measured and any necessary revisions planned. The PM is also the person responsible for conveying the progress of the product to the business leaders and making sure that all teams continue to stay on track with the roadmap.
Product Management vs. Project Management
While both fall under the umbrella of management roles, the product manager and the project manager are two distinct jobs. The former works more intimately with the product itself; they conduct research, collect customer feedback, develop the roadmap, and help each team stick to that roadmap. The latter, on the other hand, is responsible more for the organization of tasks; they will take the roadmap and break it down into tasks and timelines, help allocate resources, and monitor progress.
Forming a Product Strategy
Because of the product’s cruciality to the overall success of the company, creating a strategy for it can be an intimidating and difficult task. Here, we’ve outlined the steps to a successful strategy.
1. Understand the Problem and Audience
First and foremost, it’s important to determine exactly what the problem is that your product will solve and who it will solve it for. Both of these are required for any of the steps after because they will change the overall vision. Also, keeping the problem and audience in mind will help PMs anticipate pain points, identify solutions, and stay focused.
2. Specify the Vision
A product’s vision is a high-level understanding of where the product is going. Put differently, it’s the reason for the product. Recognizing the reason, and hence the vision, will help the PMs create a better product-market fit and make sure that the product meets its long-term goals. Part of specifying the vision is also communicating it to every part of the organization in order to ensure that the entire employee body is working together towards a unified goal.
3. Create the Product Designs
Now that you have an idea of the problem you’re solving and the place you’re trying to get to, it’s possible to draft a product design. These designs should help guide the roadmap and address customers’ needs. It’s important that the product designs are synchronized with other parts of the organization so that the individual pieces will come together well in the final product.
4. Implement the Strategy
After the designs have been developed and communicated, the team will begin to execute the product strategy. This strategy will change as the product moves further along and in accordance with the current vision and goals. It should constantly be evaluated for effectiveness and accuracy.
5. Feedback, Flaws, Fixes
Depending on the product, the PM will gather feedback on the product at different points in its development. As flaws are identified from research, testing, and customer critiques, the PM will need to work with the different teams on finding and implementing solutions.
Tips for Getting Into Product Management
Product management exists at the intersection of many different disciplines, including technology, business, and design. Those entering the field may have an academic background in one of these or in something else entirely; however, it’s generally accepted that expertise in at least one of these areas is required to succeed as a high-level PM. Though it’s possible to enter from another field, that path may require more work.
Individuals who are looking to break into product management should begin to cultivate the requisite skills. PMs have to have leadership, analysis, problem-solving, data, and interpersonal skills. Statistics are an important part of the product development and testing process and some companies may work with a statistical analysis tool to better understand the product. Many PM jobs also require advanced technical abilities, although the level will depend on the product.
Before entering the PM field, evaluate the skills you possess and those you don’t, and work to fill the gaps. Here are some free resources to get you started:
If you’ve landed an interview, congratulations! Here is our guide on succeeding in the PM interview process:
If you prefer one-on-one coaching for interview prep, resume/cover letter help, or anything else related to product management, browse our coaches here. They come with years of experience in their field and proven track records of success.
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