What is Product Manager: Roles, Responsibilities, and Best Practices

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Mateusz Krawczyński

Updated Oct 19, 2023 • 13 min read
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Ever wondered what it takes to steer a product from conception to market success? The answer lies in the hands of a product manager. In today’s fast-paced and competitive business landscape, the role of a product manager is more crucial than ever.

Short Summary

  • Product Managers are responsible for setting the product’s vision and direction, coordinating with cross-functional teams, conducting market research, and taking responsibility for its outcome.

  • They need a combination of technical skills & soft skills to be successful in their role.

  • To become a successful Product Manager focus on building relationships, communicating effectively & staying up to date with industry changes while pursuing education/certifications & gaining real-world experience.

Defining the Product Manager Role

Product managers play a pivotal role in guiding a product’s vision, strategy, and development. They are the orchestrators who work closely with cross-functional teams, ensuring that all elements come together harmoniously to create a successful product. Imagine a conductor leading an orchestra, making sure that each instrument plays its part to create a beautiful symphony. That’s what a product manager does but with designers, developers, marketing and sales teams, and customer care teams.

The product manager job description goes beyond just overseeing the development process. They are responsible for setting the product’s vision and strategic direction, conducting market research to understand customer needs and market trends, and ultimately taking responsibility for the outcome. In a nutshell, product managers are the CEOs of their products, charting the course and making critical decisions that will determine the product’s success.

Types of Product Managers

Not all product managers are created equal. There are several types of product managers, each with its unique focus and responsibilities. For instance, a product owner defines the product vision, sets the product strategy, and oversees the product roadmap, ensuring that the product meets customer needs. On the other hand, a growth product manager is responsible for boosting user growth and engagement by analyzing user habits and devising strategies to enhance user experience.

A technical product manager ensures that the product is built to the highest technical standards, managing the development process, and delivering the product on time and within budget. Meanwhile, platform product managers oversee the platform on which the product is built, understanding the platform architecture and strategizing to maximize its performance, security, and dependability.

Regardless of their specific focus, all types of product managers share the common goal of guiding their products to success.

The Product Manager vs. Product Owner

While the terms “product manager” and “product owner” are often used interchangeably, they have distinct roles and responsibilities within an organization. The product manager focuses on the big picture, setting the product’s vision and strategic direction, while the product owner works closely with the development team to execute the strategy, managing the product backlog and ensuring that the product meets customer needs.

It is crucial for teams to outline the responsibilities between the product manager and the product owner to avoid confusion and misaligned expectations. Imagine a relay race where the baton is passed between runners; if the roles are not clearly defined, the baton may be dropped, resulting in wasted time and a product that does not meet customer needs. Defining these roles ensures that everyone is on the same page, working together towards a common goal.

Essential Skills for Successful Product Managers

To thrive in the product management arena, a combination of technical skills and soft skills is essential. Technical skills, such as data analysis and market assessment, enable product managers to understand user needs, create product roadmaps, and manage product backlogs. Soft skills, on the other hand, are crucial for effective collaboration, decision-making, and influencing stakeholders.

Think of a product manager as a skilled juggler who must keep multiple balls in the air, ensuring that each aspect of the product development process is well-coordinated and running smoothly. With a mix of technical know-how and exceptional soft skills, successful product managers can deftly navigate the complexities of their role, guiding their products to success. It’s no wonder that the average product manager's salary is often seen as a reflection of the value they bring to the table.

Technical Skills and Expertise

Technical skills are the foundation upon which a product manager’s expertise is built. These skills enable product managers to understand user needs, create product roadmaps, and manage product backlogs, ensuring that the product is developed according to the vision and strategy set forth.

In addition to these core technical skills, product managers must also be knowledgeable about software development processes, ensuring that the product is built to the highest technical standards and delivered on time and within budget. By mastering these technical skills, product managers can work effectively with the development team and product designers to create products that meet customer needs and achieve business objectives.

Soft Skills and Collaboration

Soft skills are the secret sauce that enables product managers to excel in their roles. Strong communication, problem-solving, and empathy are essential for smooth collaboration with team members and stakeholders. These skills also play a crucial role in decision-making, as critical thinking, creativity, and negotiation help product managers make informed choices that benefit both the product and the organization.

Influencing stakeholders is another area where soft skills shine. Persuasion, relationship-building, and leadership enable product managers to rally support for their product vision and strategy, ensuring that everyone is on board and working towards a common goal. By honing these soft skills, product managers can navigate the complexities of their role with ease and drive their products to success.

The Product Manager's Role in the Product Lifecycle

A product manager’s role extends across the entire product lifecycle, from the initial spark of an idea to the launch and beyond. They are the guiding force behind every stage of the product’s development, ensuring that it meets customer needs, aligns with the organization’s goals, and ultimately achieves success in the market.

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During the development phase, product managers work closely with engineers and designers to bring the product to life, setting project milestones, managing communication between the product team and the organization, and ensuring that any risks are addressed. In this role, a project manager is vital for success. In addition, they must continuously conduct competitive market analyses to ascertain their product’s position in the market and make informed decisions based on customer feedback and industry trends.

Discovery and Validation

The discovery and validation phase is where product managers lay the groundwork for a successful product. They research market opportunities, validate ideas, and prioritize features, ensuring that the product’s vision and strategy are aligned with customer needs and market trends.

During this phase, product managers use various tools and techniques to gain insights into customer needs, such as user research, customer success stories, and market analysis. This information is then used to inform the product roadmap, guiding the development process and ensuring that the product remains relevant and competitive in the market.

Development and Launch

The development and launch phase is where the product comes to life. Product managers collaborate with designers and engineers to build the product, ensuring that it meets the vision and strategy set forth during the discovery and validation phase.

Once the product is launched, the product manager’s role does not end. They must continuously measure the product’s performance, gather user feedback, and analyze data to inform future iterations and improvements. By staying engaged throughout the entire product lifecycle, product managers ensure that their products remain competitive, relevant, and successful in the market.

Best Practices for Aspiring Product Managers

If you’re considering a career as a product manager, there are a few best practices to keep in mind. First and foremost, focus on building strong relationships with team members, customers, and stakeholders. Effective communication, active listening, and empathy are key to forging these relationships and understanding the challenges and opportunities that your product will face.

Secondly, continuously learn and adapt to industry changes. Stay informed about the latest trends, attend workshops, and seek feedback from peers to stay ahead of the curve. By embracing a growth mindset and constantly expanding your knowledge and skills, you’ll be well-prepared to excel as a product manager in the ever-evolving business landscape.

Building Strong Relationships

Building strong relationships is at the heart of successful product management. Active listening, empathy, and effective communication enable product managers to understand the needs and concerns of their team members, customers, and stakeholders. By fostering a deep understanding of these perspectives, product managers can make informed decisions that benefit both the product and the organization.

To build strong relationships, be open to learning and asking questions. Engage with customers, listen to their feedback, and demonstrate a genuine interest in their needs. By doing so, you’ll not only gain valuable insights into your product’s market fit but also establish trust and credibility with the very people who will determine your product’s success.

Continuous Learning and Adaptability

In the rapidly evolving world of product management, continuous learning and adaptability are vital to staying ahead of the curve. Staying updated on industry trends, attending workshops, and seeking feedback from peers can help bolster your knowledge and skills, making you a more effective product manager.

Embrace the uncertainty and ambiguity that come with the territory, as markets change and customer needs evolve. By staying agile and adapting your strategies based on new information, you’ll be better equipped to navigate the challenges of product management and guide your product to success.

Pathways to Becoming a Product Manager

Becoming a product manager involves a combination of education, real-world experience, and networking. Pursuing relevant education and certifications can provide you with the foundational knowledge and skills required for the role while gaining real-world experience through internships, job shadowing, and networking with established product managers can give you valuable insights into the industry and help you build relationships with potential employers.

No matter your starting point, there are multiple pathways to becoming a successful product manager. By combining formal education with hands-on experience and strategic networking, you can pave your way to a rewarding career in product management.

Education and Certifications

Education and certifications can provide aspiring product managers with the knowledge, skills, and recognition needed to excel in their roles. Options include business or marketing degrees, product management courses, and project management certifications offered by institutions such as Product School, Pragmatic Institute, and AIPMM.

While certifications are not mandatory, they can help you stand out in the job market and demonstrate your commitment to the profession. By pursuing relevant education and certifications, you can build a solid foundation for your career as a product manager.

Real-world Experience and Networking

Gaining real-world experience is crucial for aspiring product managers. Internships, job shadowing, and working on projects within your current role can provide invaluable insights into the industry and help you hone your skills. Additionally, joining a product-focused organization or participating in product management events can offer opportunities to learn from experienced professionals and build your network.

Networking with established product managers can open doors to potential job opportunities while also providing you with insights into the day-to-day realities of the role. By combining real-world experience with strategic networking, you can pave your way to a successful career in product management.

Summary

In summary, product managers play a pivotal role in guiding a product’s vision, strategy, and development throughout its entire lifecycle. By mastering a combination of technical and soft skills, building strong relationships with team members, customers, and stakeholders, and continuously learning and adapting to industry changes, product managers can drive their products to success in the competitive business landscape. With the right education, real-world experience, and networking, you can embark on a rewarding career as a product manager.

Frequently Asked Questions

What exactly does a product manager do?

A Product Manager serves as the liaison between business, technology, and design teams, helping to identify customer needs and larger business objectives that a product or feature should fulfill. They manage tasks, tools, and relationships in every phase of development, from planning through launch and beyond, to ensure that the desired product or feature is built successfully.

What is required to be a product manager?

To be a product manager, you’ll need a strong understanding of business metrics and KPIs, the ability to think strategically, and excellent problem-solving skills. A Bachelor’s degree in a related field is usually required, but obtaining a Master’s in Business Administration or Business Management & Leadership can also be beneficial.

Product managers should also have strong communication, research, and analysis skills as well as experience working in the technical field.

What are examples of product managers?

Product managers are responsible for a range of tasks, such as creating product strategy plans, developing the product, managing branding and customer communication, and creating marketing and PR plans. As an example, there might be one product manager who is responsible for the “Inbox” section of an email platform, creating an overall strategy plan to meet the user’s needs.

Product managers can stay connected to their industry’s latest trends by attending workshops, staying abreast of industry publications, and networking with peers.

These activities can help product managers stay informed of the latest developments in their field and ensure they are up-to-date on the latest trends. They can also help product managers build relationships with other professionals in their industry.

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Mateusz Krawczyński

Delivery Director | Finance at Netguru

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