What is product management?

Product management is responsible for delivering products and services that make customers happy and drive business growth. It is integral to the company's broader product development cycle — the entire process of transforming a raw idea into a solution that addresses customer needs, then measuring its success in the market.

Product managers' dedication to planning, building, delivering, and iterating on solutions is what solves customer problems. Companies achieve sustainable success based on the strength of their offering. This is why product management continues to grow in influence and popularity. In 2020, for example, nearly 17 percent of MBA students at MIT Sloan School of Management accepted jobs in product management — making this the third-largest job category for graduates.

The appeal of product management is particularly strong for those with an entrepreneurial spirit. Product managers are often able to operate with autonomy, work across many cross-functional groups, and develop lifelong career skills. The opportunity to make a meaningful impact on business growth and guide the product development process are also reasons that product management is such an in-demand discipline.

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Feel free to skip ahead to any of the following sections to learn more about product management:

Product management responsibilities

Product managers are responsible for overseeing product-related activities along every stage of the product lifecycleproduct development, launch, growth, maturity, and decline. As a product manager, you provide an overarching focus to everyone else in the organization and advocate for what customers truly need.

Specifically, you are responsible for the strategy, roadmap, and feature definition for a product or product line. Some product management positions also include product marketing, forecasting, and profit and loss responsibilities. Product managers can be found at companies that are building products and technologies for external customers (consumers, end users, partners, etc.) as well as internal customers (employees). Product managers work closely with sales, support, marketing, and engineering to deliver the best possible customer experience.

Product management spans from strategic objectives to tactical activities, including:

  • Setting a product vision and strategy that is differentiated and delivers unique value based on customer demands. This includes defining personas and analyzing market and competitive conditions.

  • Defining what the product team will deliver and the timeline for implementation. This includes creating a release plan, capturing actionable feedback and ideas, and prioritizing features.

  • Providing cross-functional leadership, most notably between engineering teams, sales and marketing, and support. A key aspect of this is communicating progress against the product roadmap and keeping everyone informed of updates.

  • Analyzing product success. This entails tracking product metrics such as customer usage and bounce rates to determine the success of your offering.

Related:What does a product manager do?

To better understand what product management entails, let's break down the responsibilities into internal and external spheres. Internal product management involves gathering customer research, competitive intelligence, and industry trends — as well as setting strategy and managing the product roadmap. External product management includes product marketing responsibilities such as messaging and branding, customer communication, new product launches, advertising, PR, and events. It is worth noting that product management and product marketing are typically separate roles, but there is frequent communication and close collaboration between them.

Product strategy and roadmap planning (Internal)

Product marketing and go-to-market activities (External)

Careers in product management

Product management is a well-paid and rewarding career. Typically, product management titles range from the entry role of an associate product manager to a senior chief product officer who leads the entire product team.

Of course, specific titles and responsibilities depend on the company and the type of product you are building. For example, large organizations with multiple or complex offerings will likely have product portfolio managers to oversee their product lines. The methodology a company follows also matters — such as waterfall vs. agile and kanban vs. scrum. Your day-to-day role will vary based on the different workflows and processes of your company and team.

What is universal is that product management continues to expand as a profession. Demand for qualified product managers is growing at every level. If you are looking to start a career in product management, you can expect a challenging interview process. Be prepared to speak to your technical knowledge, decision-making skills, empathy, curiosity, and motivation. You can prepare for interviews by practicing from this comprehensive list of interview questions.

Product manager skills

Product managers need a wide variety of skills to be successful. The best product managers are curious, thoughtful, empathetic, and organized. A relentless focus on customer needs helps you fix strategic problems. Each day, product managers work hard to align and drive action. You need a variety of skills to do this successfully, including working with UX designers to build wireframes and mockups so the scope of a feature is clear.

Some of the most important product management skills include:

  • Analytical skills

  • Communication

  • Empathy

  • Financial skills

  • Leadership

  • Presentation skills

  • Project management

  • Research

  • Strategic thinking

  • Technical skills (methodologies, processes, and tools)

Product management tools

Historically, most product managers simply used a combination of spreadsheets, presentations, and text documents to communicate their product strategy and roadmap. These tools are easily available and typically included in any company's suite of applications. But as the discipline evolved, it became clear there was a need for purpose-built product development tools, including roadmap software.

Now, cloud-based applications and SaaS tools make it possible to set strategy, whiteboard ideas, capture customer feedback, manage releases, define features, build visual product roadmaps, and analyze product success. These tools can also support teams that want to implement modern methodologies like agile product management.

Unfortunately, the large number of product management apps that exist can make it difficult for product managers to work efficiently. Instead of having to switch between multiple tools for different purposes, it is smarter to consolidate them into one seamlessly integrated environment. This is why many product managers use the Aha! suite of tools. You can see an idea from conception to completion, collaborate with developers, and do all of your product planning and building in one place.

Certifications for product managers

Demand for product managers has increased over the past decade — even as the role remains one that many professionals often stumble into and learn as they go. However, training programs and educational materials are quickly being offered and developed to support product managers who are looking to master the craft.

For example, Aha! offers no-cost and fee-based courses to help product managers grow their skills. With Aha! Academy, you can receive in-depth training from our skilled instructors and earn certification in Aha! Roadmaps. Live tutorials are another good opportunity to learn best practices for using the Aha! suite from our team of product experts.

Learn more about the discipline of product management:

Frequently asked questions about product management

What is the purpose of product management?

The aim of product management is to deliver value to customers and the business. Specifically, product managers achieve this by defining a bold product vision and strategy, deeply understanding customers and the market, and leading the broader product team to make progress against the product roadmap. Building and delivering a product that customers love is the ultimate reward for all the great work that you do as a product manager.

What is product management not?

Many folks mistakenly conflate product management with project management. Product management is responsible for setting the product vision and strategy, defining the release process, and overseeing a product throughout its entire lifecycle. While product management is a strategic discipline, project management focuses more on the tactical details — resource planning, overseeing cross-functional dependencies, and making sure that deadlines are met.

Which roles support product management?

Product managers lead the cross-functional product team, which typically includes representatives from innovation, product management, project management, product marketing, engineering, and operations. Beyond this core product development team, product management also works closely with members of marketing, sales, and support teams. Depending on the type of organization, product managers may also work closely with scrum masters, release managers, product operations managers, or technical product managers.

What is agile product management?

Inspired by agile software development methodologies, agile product management applies the principles of continuous improvement to the work of building and delivering products. Instead of planning products sequentially (and often slowly), agile product managers respond quickly to user feedback, collaborate closely with engineering, and release new customer experiences often. This agile approach allows for greater flexibility — you can continuously prioritize features and focus on delivering more value to customers.

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Product development dictionary