What is the role of a product manager?
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. You set the strategy, roadmap, and feature definition for a product or product line. The position may also include product marketing, forecasting, and profit and loss (P&L) responsibilities.
Product managers provide the expertise needed to lead and make strategic product decisions. While it has been said that product managers are "mini CEOs" of a product, it is actually more accurate to say you are the product leaders at the intersection of business, technology, and user experience (UX). This is because the role spans many activities from strategic to tactical and provides important cross-functional leadership — most notably between engineering, marketing, sales, and support teams. You 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, you will build with conviction and find deep satisfaction in your role 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 before. 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 engineers and write clear product requirements.
The table below summarizes some of the most common product management roles:
Manages the entire product lifecycle and product roadmap
Internal — engineering, sales, marketing, customer success, legal, the leadership team, and board members
External — customers, end-users, and partners
Supports the development team by prioritizing the product backlog and creating user stories
Internal — developers, designers, and technical managers
Growth product manager
Delivers business outcomes — growth, customer retention, revenue, etc.
Internal — business leaders
Technical product manager
Works with the engineering team on core specifications and product functionality
Internal — developers, designers, and technical managers
Platform product manager
Creates and optimizes technical components shared across multiple products
Internal — engineering
There can be overlaps across these product management roles, but each has unique value as well. And each role can have major impacts across the organization with a clear understanding of goals and responsibilities.
Responsibilities of a product manager
Let's zero in on the core responsibilities of a product manager. 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 to 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 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 the 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, you 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.
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 the list below as a starting point to spark inspiration and keep your team focused on delivering its best work:
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?
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 for success in your first 30 days:
Start with strategy
Each product decision, even early on, should be rooted in strategy. So do not jump into making decisions 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 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. The best product managers use purpose-built product management software like Aha! Roadmaps to drive results. Thousand of companies use Aha! to set strategy, define features, and build beautiful roadmaps. Sign up now for a trial — free for 30 days.
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