What does a product manager do, and how do you become one?
August 10, 2022
A product manager is one of those roles everyone thinks they understand, but few actually do. In its most basic form, a product manager is responsible for the successful planning, execution, and delivery of a product. But that job description doesn’t quite do the role justice…
Some people might say that product managers are responsible for developing and bringing new products to market, while others may claim that their main focus is on customer satisfaction or ensuring the products meet certain standards. The truth? It’s all of the above.
Product managers wear many hats. They’re the ones who make sure the product meets the customer’s needs, that it’s profitable for the company, and that it fits in with the company’s overall strategy — three things that make sense but don’t always want to work together. In order to make it all work, product managers need to have a deep understanding of their customers, the market, and the competition.
They also need to be able to work effectively with other teams within the company, such as engineering, sales, and marketing. And they need to be able to make tough decisions quickly, often with incomplete information. So, it’s not quite as simple as it seems at first glance.
What is a product manager?
In a nutshell: A product manager is responsible for the successful planning, execution, and delivery of a product.
What are the key parts of the product manager’s job?
Product managers need to specialize in three areas:
Business expertise means that product managers have a deep understanding of their customers, the market, and the competition. They need to know what products are available, what features and benefits each offer, and who the target customer is. They also need to understand what the company’s goals are and how the product fits into those goals.
Technology expertise means that product managers must be able to work effectively with engineering teams to make sure products are developed according to plan and on schedule. They also need an understanding of complex technical systems.
And finally, UX know-how means that product managers have the skills to design user interfaces that are both effective and appealing to users. They also need to understand how users interact with products and how to make changes based on user feedback. Strong research, data aggregation, and analytical skills are essential.
Product manager vs. product owner: what’s the difference?
The terms’ product manager’ and ‘product owner’ are often used interchangeably. But they’re two distinct roles in the product team lineup.
A product manager is responsible for the overall vision and strategy for the product. They need the ability to see the big picture and make decisions in line with the company’s goals.
A product owner is responsible for the day-to-day management of the product. They need to be able to prioritize and manage the development team’s backlog. They also need a deep understanding of the product and its features.
What’s the difference between a product manager, and a digital product manager?
The main difference between a product manager and a digital product manager is that a digital product manager focuses on digital products, such as software or applications.
A digital product manager needs to have a deep understanding of the digital landscape and how developers work in order to create successful products that meet the needs of customers.
So, what does a product manager do?
Now, let’s take a closer look at the question, “What does a product manager do?” Here, we’ll explore the role in depth and go through some of a product manager’s key responsibilities.
Understanding the customer
Product managers must be able to answer questions like: Who is the target customer? What are their needs? What are they looking for in a product? How might they use our product, and how do we reach them?
The answers to these questions will guide the product manager in making decisions about everything from the product features to the marketing strategy and beyond.
Top tip: use techniques like user story maps, user personas, and cognitive walkthroughs to help you get into the minds of your audience.
Creating a product vision
Once the product manager comes to grips with the customers’ needs, it’s time to create a product vision. This is a long-term view of what the product should be and how it should meet the needs of the customer.
The product vision should be ambitious but achievable. It should excite and inspire the team, but it also needs to be realistic. Just like Goldilocks’ porridge, it needs to be just right; be sure to put some time into finding that balance.
Creating a product roadmap
The product roadmap is a high-level plan that outlines the steps needed to reach the product vision. It’ll change over time as new information becomes available and the market evolves. But whatever happens, the product roadmap should always be aligned with the product vision.
One of the most important responsibilities of a product manager is to define the features of the product. This includes deciding what to prioritize and what to leave out.
The goal is to create a product that’s valuable to customers and meets their needs (as opposed to what’s easiest/most exciting for the dev team/stakeholders). Yet, it’s also important to make sure the product is feasible and fits within the overall roadmap and strategy. So, again, it’s a bit of a balancing act.
Once you’ve mapped out the features, it’s time to officially prioritize them. This can be a difficult task because it requires a compromise between what the customer wants and what’s realistically achievable.
As a product manager, you’ll also have to take other opinions into account: developers, managers, and stakeholders will all have ideas about what’s best. It’s a juggling act between negotiating, winning people over, and holding your ground. Whichever route you take, keep the customers’ needs in mind, and you won’t go far off track.
Being an advocate
The product manager ultimately needs to advocate for the customers and their needs. This includes making a case for why certain features are important and why the product should be designed in a certain way.
It’s easy for the development team to get caught up in the features they think the product needs. But if developers lose sight of customer needs, the team’s chances of wasting time on pointless features are high.
Communicating with stakeholders, sales, marketing, and engineers
A product manager must be able to communicate effectively with external and internal stakeholders involved in the product. This includes the development team, sales, marketing, customer support, etc.
Each of these teams has its own priorities and way of doing things. The product manager should have an understanding of all of these different perspectives and find a way to align them with the product vision.
Good decision-making abilities are a must. This includes everything from deciding which features to build to choosing the right way to respond to customer feedback.
Product managers must be quick, efficient decision-makers, but they also need enough insight and discernment to make constructive choices. This requires a deep understanding of the product, the market, and the customers.
Motivating the team
Motivated teams work better — it’s a fact. And it’s the product manager’s job to help make this happen by setting goals, providing feedback, and offering support.
It’s also important for the product manager to create a positive, productive environment where the team can do their best work. Being a good motivator can be a challenge, especially when things aren’t going well — but it’s essential for the success of the product.
Innovating and research
Product managers are often responsible for coming up with new ideas and finding ways to improve the product. This includes everything from running discovery research sessions to finding new ways to solve customer problems to developing radical new features that will make the product more valuable. Staying up to date with the latest industry trends is a must, as is having a strong knowledge of product research techniques.
- Read our guide to product research methods for more tips!
Launching and managing the product
After all the planning and work, it’s finally time to launch the product. But the job of the product manager doesn’t end there. They continue tracking the product’s performance and making changes as needed. Product managers also collect customer feedback and use it to improve the product as time goes on. Neglect this responsibility, and you may fall behind your competitors!
As the face of the product, the product manager is responsible for presenting it to potential customers, partners, and investors. This requires a deep understanding of the product and its features, not to mention great communication skills.
It’s also important to be able to present the product in a way that’s compelling and easy to understand, which can be a challenge for complex products. Study up on storytelling techniques for your presentation to really capture hearts and minds.
How to become a product manager
Truthfully, there isn’t one specific path to becoming a product manager. Many people come into the role through experience in other areas, such as engineering, marketing, or sales. Others make their way over from development teams or other managerial roles.
The most important thing for someone who wants to become a product manager is to have a deep understanding of the product and the market. You’ll need to be able to think strategically and see the big picture. You’ll also need to work well with others, handle difficult situations, communicate effectively, and make decisions quickly.
In terms of qualifications, there are a few routes you can take. One option is to get a degree in engineering or engineering management, design, business, marketing, or another related field. Another option is to get a combination of technical hands-on experience and specialized certifications in product management or a related skill set. In both cases, you’ll likely work in other roles on a product team before becoming a product manager.
The best way to learn how to become a product manager is to really study the nuances of the role (via articles like this one), start your own projects (documenting successes and failures as you go), and talk to people in the field. Working professionals can give you insight into the realistic demands of the job and what it takes to be successful.
Once you have your technical knowledge up to scratch and polish your storytelling skills, all you need to do is start applying to product management roles!
A typical day in the life of a product manager
So, what does a typical day in the life of a product manager look like? Here’s a sample day:
9:00 am: Check email and prioritize tasks for the day.
10:00 am: Meet with the engineering team to discuss progress on the product roadmap.
11:00 am: Meet with the marketing team to discuss the launch plan for the product.
12:00 pm: Lunch!
1:00 pm: Work on defining features for the next release of the product.
3:00 pm: Meet with customers to collect feedback.
4:00 pm: Prepare for the weekly product meeting.
5:00 pm: Input all your data in preparation for development team meetings tomorrow.
5:30 pm: Head home for the day!
Best practice: tips for being an amazing product manager
Not all product managers are created equally. Here are some tips on being the best product manager you can possibly be.
Learn to prioritize
One of the most important skills for a product manager is knowing how to prioritize. There will always be more things you want to do than there is time to do them. So, you need to learn to focus on the most important tasks — or things’ll get pretty hectic fast!
Product managers need to communicate well with all stakeholders involved. In fact, one of the most important skills is being able to influence people who hold a higher job title than yourself — meaning you can’t fall back on typical hierarchical authority. Being a highly personable individual will help you out here.
The product manager role is constantly changing. You need the ability to adapt and be flexible in order to be successful and agile.
Use the right tools
From email to videoconferencing, knowing which tools are available to you and how to use them effectively is a must. Diagramming software is particularly handy for product managers: use it to gather customer feedback, create user journeys in just a few clicks, and store and share all that data with your team — all from one central place.
The role of a product manager is both exciting and challenging. It’s a position that requires a deep understanding of the market and the customer, as well as the ability to make tough decisions quickly. But it’s also a position with a lot of responsibility and potential for impact. If you’re up for the challenge, then a career in product management might be right for you!
Why not get started today? Whether you’re a product pro looking for your next challenge or a complete beginner who wants to test the tools of the trade, give Cacoo a try to create product roadmaps, customer journey maps, and more!