What does a product manager do?
The best product managers are visionaries. You guide the success of a product and lead the cross-functional team that is responsible for improving it. This is an important organizational role — especially in technology companies. Product managers provide the expertise needed to lead and make strategic product decisions.
The product manager role spans many activities from strategic to tactical. Because of this, product managers are often the hubs at the center of product teams — connecting customers, engineering, marketing, sales, and support teams. While it has been said that product managers are "mini CEOs" of a product, that is not quite accurate. Product managers are product leaders within their organizations who excel at bringing teams together around a shared understanding of customer problems and how the team will solve them.
What is a product manager?
A product manager sets the strategy, roadmap, and feature definition for a product or product line. A product manager role may also include product marketing, forecasting, and profit and loss (P&L) responsibilities. Product managers analyze market and competitive conditions, laying out a product vision that is differentiated and delivers unique value based on customer demands.
Product development is invigorating. When you feel a real sense of responsibility and commitment to your product, it can inspire you to build with conviction and help you find deep satisfaction in your work as a product manager.
Types of product managers
There are many different types of product management roles. Every organization will define positions a bit differently — based on offerings, customers, and product strategy. Generally speaking, the larger the company and its portfolio, the more product leaders it may require.
Product managers often grow from positions in other departments — such as marketing, sales, engineering, and project management. Some of your most relevant experience as a product manager will stem from what you did in other roles. For example, an engineer who switches to a technical product manager role brings a deep understanding of the product development process. Your past experience can help you communicate effectively with the development team and write clear product requirements.
The table below summarizes some of the most common product manager roles:
Manages the entire product lifecycle and product roadmap.
Growth product manager
Delivers business outcomes across growth, customer retention, revenue, etc.
Technical product manager
Works with the engineering team on core specifications and product functionality.
Platform product manager
Creates and optimizes technical components shared across multiple products.
While each of these roles is a bit different, they all come down to promoting a clear understanding of goals and responsibilities so product teams can stay aligned on creating value for customers and the business.
Responsibilities of a product manager
Let's zero in on a product manager's core responsibilities. Although the scope of work is broad, your day-to-day responsibilities can typically be broken down into the following six areas:
1. Setting strategy
At the highest level, you are responsible for setting your product's vision and strategic direction. You need to be able to clearly articulate the business case of a given initiative or feature so your team understands why you are building it.
Strategic planning involves laying out major areas of investment so you can prioritize what matters most and achieve your product goals. You also own the product roadmap — a timeline that visualizes what you will deliver and when.
2. Defining releases
Product managers translate product strategy into planned work — defining what you will build and when you will launch it. This holds true no matter which development methodology your engineering team uses.
You are responsible for managing the release process and cross-functional dependencies — all of the activities required to bring new products, features, and functionality to market. This involves bridging gaps between different functions within the company and aligning key teams including marketing, sales, and customer support.
3. Evaluating ideas
Every organization wants better ideas for a successful product. Product managers are responsible for crowdsourcing, developing, and curating ideas that will deliver value to customers. You own the organization's idea management process and determine which ideas should be promoted to your backlog in order to propel the product strategy forward.
To this end, product owners also ensure that feedback and requests are integrated into the product planning and development processes. You communicate the status of ideas back to your customers, partners, and internal teammates who submitted them.
4. Prioritizing features
Product managers prioritize features by ranking them against the strategic goals and initiatives. You have to make difficult trade-off decisions based on the value a new feature will deliver to your customers and the business.
You are also responsible for defining featured requirements and the desired user experience. You work closely with engineering on the technical specifications and ensure that teams have all of the information they need to deliver a complete product to market.
5. Building and sharing strategic roadmaps
Creating and updating your product roadmap is one of the most powerful communication tools you have as a product manager. A product roadmap visualizes how your product will achieve your business objectives and helps keep work on track.
There are many different types of roadmaps you can create depending on who you are presenting to and what you are trying to convey. Executives tend to want to know the high-level plans, while engineers and designers will need to understand exact timing and sequencing of important work.
An example of a product roadmap built in Aha! Roadmaps that highlights strategic goals and initiatives — plus the work that will be done to accomplish them.
6. Analyzing and reporting on progress
Great product managers are laser-focused on results — for customers and for the business as a whole. You need a complete view of progress towards goals to understand how your product is performing.
Consider referencing the following list of questions during your next team meeting:
How are the most important initiatives progressing?
Which inefficiencies or blockers need to be addressed?
Are we satisfied with team velocity?
Are there any capacity issues that need to be resolved?
What product features are the most and least used?
Where are users getting stuck and abandoning our offering?
What percentage of trials convert to paid accounts?
How many accounts are growing vs. how many are shrinking?
Answering these questions well requires deep curiosity — you need to dig into both qualitative and quantitative data. Begin by tracking team progress with sprint burndown charts, velocity reports, and reports showing how many features your team ships per sprint, month, or even quarter. Product usage reports can include adoption reports, retention reports, and reports displaying the most popular product features among various customer segments. Find the reports that best suit your needs and help you tell an accurate story about how you are meeting product goals.
Tips for new product managers
If you are just starting out as a product manager or have moved into a new role, the breadth of your responsibilities can be overwhelming. There is a lot to do — so take it in stride. Here are some tips to be a great product manager in your first 30 days:
Start with strategy
Each product decision, even early on, should be rooted in strategy. So do not jump into decision-making impulsively. Dig into the existing product goals and make sure you understand what you are trying to achieve.
Get to know your customers
Empathy is essential for successful product managers. Spend time really getting to know the problems that you solve for customers. Sit in on sales calls, make time to meet real customers, and analyze all of the information and data available to you. Deep understanding takes more than 30 days — but you can make a lot of progress by showing curiosity in the first month.
Build relationships with your team
You will not find success on your own. Product managers rely on the development team and product designers to build the right product. And you lean on marketing and sales to successfully bring it to market. So build genuine connections with your teammates — strong relationships foster trust and better communication.
Learn to say no
You will get plenty of requests from every corner of your organization — a plea for a new feature that will help close a deal, a request to fix a bug now, or an idea for an improvement. On top of that, you will hear from customers too. You cannot possibly please everyone all at once. Develop a prioritization framework and get comfortable saying "no" or "not now."
Take your time
It takes time and patience to grow into a new role and find lasting success. Be ready to learn the same lessons on repeat and to ask a lot of questions. Allow yourself the time you need to become the go-to product expert at your organization.
You have the opportunity to meaningful contributions to your company and to your customers in your role as a product manager. So dive in and start planning how you and your team can create real value.
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