Technology is rapidly advancing, and as products try to keep up with the fast pace — so, too, must the product managers behind them. Central to the success of not only products but to the larger organization, product managers play a crucial role in continuously improving the products they serve. To understand product managers more in-depth, let’s explore what they do on a daily basis, including their responsibilities, the skills you need to be a good product manager, and what it takes to be successful in the world of technology today.
What Is a Product Manager?
To get started, exactly what is a product manager? The role of a product manager is inherently diverse, says project and product management platform Aha!. Product management seeks to understand a product from top to bottom, liaising between engineering, sales and marketing, and customers. Product managers set the vision, tone, and strategy that delivers the unique value of the product to these groups — and then brings that value to life. As such, these individuals are highly collaborative, and — you guessed it — highly cross-functional. Beyond sales and marketing and engineering, you may find product managers working closely with business operations to understand financial goals or any other number of teams and departments that will help them more intimately understand and strategize the product.
What Does a Product Manager Do?
With this basic framework of what a product manager is, let’s dive into the role’s function and what a product manager is responsible for within an organization. “Lifecycle” is a word you will often hear associated with product managers — as in the lifecycle of a product from its inception as an idea to its development, launch, in-market phase, and afterlife. Product managers oversee all of this. And according to software company Heap, it is just as much work as you may imagine it to be. While product managers are busy with the overall strategy of a product, they often get involved with the minute details of a marketing plan, launch, or the post-mortem, for instance, or any other number of logistics that demand their attention. For this reason, Brian De Haaf, co-founder and CEO of Aha!, says:
“Product vs. project. The amount of confusion these two words can cause never surprises me. If you are a product manager, you know where I am going with this. I bet you have been called a ‘project manager’ more times than you can count. And the confusion only grows in companies where there is a product owner on the team, too.”
With this in mind, some of the core responsibilities of product managers, which differ from other members of the team, include:
- Product management strategy: Imagine setting the compass for your product’s journey. This core responsibility is all about planning where you want to go, who you want to reach, and how to make your product shine within the company’s master plan. Strategy involves defining the overall vision and direction for a product.
- Product lifecycle: This is akin to witnessing the full story of your product, from its humble beginnings to its retirement. It’s about nurturing it through the exciting phases of growth, maturity, and gracefully managing its eventual farewell.
- Feature development and release: And here is where the magic happens. You bring those exciting ideas to life and send them out into the world, ready to make users’ lives better and the product even more lovable.
- Building and sharing strategic roadmaps: Think of this duty as creating a treasure map for your team. You sketch out the journey ahead, making sure everyone knows where you’re heading and how you plan to get there, all while making sure the team is as excited as you are about the adventure.
- Progress analysis and reporting: It’s like taking a pit stop during a road trip to check the map and refuel. You take a good look at how the product is doing, what’s clicking, and what needs a bit of grease, and then you share all the exciting updates with everyone on the team, cheering for your victories and finding smart solutions for any bumps in the road.
What Skills Are Needed to Be an Effective Product Manager?
Product managers are often rooted in technology, and as such, the role demands inherent tech skills. Let’s take a look at some of the in-demand tech skills product managers must have:
- Data collection, extraction, and analysis: As mentioned above, product managers oversee the entirety of a product, and it is their job to intimately understand precisely what’s going on with said product, at any given point. That means collecting data from any and all sources, departments, voices, and teams as possible. Doing so in an organized fashion makes the work immensely easier, and UserVoice recommends learning SQL or another technical software language to help you get started with the endeavor.
- Microsoft Excel: While it might sound simple and straightforward, you will need to go beyond the Microsoft Excel skills you picked up in Accounting 101 if you want to excel as a product manager. UserVoice again suggests brushing up pivot tables, macros, and other formulas that will serve you and other teams well when making your case for how best to take your product to market, adopt a new feature, or release version 3.0.
- A/B testing: Would you look at that? More data. At this point, you shouldn’t be surprised. Product managers deal in data, and there’s nothing more convincing than running an A/B test to prove what works and what doesn’t work in the real world with customers.
- Conversion rate optimization: Also known as CRO, Heap succinctly defines this as “targeting the right audience, working efficiently, and creating an experience of clear value to each user.”
How to Become a Product Manager
According to O*NET Online, of the professionals surveyed, 56% reported a bachelor’s degree is required to become a product manager and 24% reported a master’s degree is necessary to be successful in the career; finally, 11% cited a professional degree of at least two years is required to become a product manager. Per O*NET, a combination of education, skills, and experience will help you become an effective product manager.
O*NET Online is a helpful resource for providing up-to-date data on salary information.
Overview: Product Managers
The unique thing about product managers (note: not project managers) is that they do a little bit of everything. For this reason, they are extremely valuable and helpful within an organization — and essential to the success of the products they maintain. In addition to their technical prowess, they liaise with many people both in and out of the company to ensure success throughout the lifecycle of the products, which is critical to all of the teams involved.