What Does a Product Manager Do?

By BrainStation July 20, 2018
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As the name suggests, a Product Manager (PM) is responsible for overseeing product development from conception to completion, and beyond. They help figure out what products should get made, ensure that they do get made, and report back on how users are responding to those products.

In terms of digital product management, PMs are the glue that holds together the user experience, the technical requirements, and the business requirements of a product. Mind the Product co-founder Martin Erikkson has described them as “the unsung heroes of the tech world.” Unsurprisingly, PMs can be very well compensated: Indeed pegs the average salary at just over $95,000; Glassdoor has it at just under $109,000.

What is Product Management?

More than ever before, savvy product management can have a huge impact on company success.

“In the digital product world of tremendous consumer choice, low switching costs, social sharing, ratings, reviews, and recommendations, making great products matters more than ever to keep a user’s attention,” says Brett Tworetzsky, SVP Product at InVision.

To understand the scope of product management, consider the maturity of the company. If it’s an early-stage start-up, a PM will likely be responsible for everything required to get the product out the door, from research to QA to writing up release notes. If the company is seasoned or multinational, there will be many PMs working on a narrower band of the product’s development. Some PMs, for example, may specialize in collecting and analysing user feedback while others will facilitate the technical development of the product.

A Product Manager’s degree of decision-making power also depends on the size and culture of the company. In large tech firms, executives typically decide what products get made, while PMs are in charge of the user research and execution phases.

What Does a Product Manager do?

In a nutshell, they “own the Job-to-be-Done,” as Geoffrey Keating puts it. PMs are passionate about understanding their users’ problems and needs, and they rely on a deep user experience understanding when working with their research, technical, and marketing teams. PMs also cultivate a comprehensive understanding of the product’s strengths and weaknesses, always maintaining a desire for improvement.

This role has both internal-facing and external-facing aspects, and requires a mix of:

  • Research
  • Communication
  • Collaboration
  • Documentation
  • Management

While PMs are managing the development of a product, they are also managing people in order to accomplish the end goal. Keating jokes that a possible equivalent title is “Direction and Consensus Manager.” If you think about the steps it takes to create a digital product, from brainstorming to widespread user-adoption, you’ll appreciate just how much collaboration is needed.

What are the Skills of a Product Manager?

PMs must be versatile enough to work at the intersection of UX, Business, and Tech. They need a blend of “big picture” and detail-oriented skills, must be creative as well as analytical in their thinking, and feel comfortable interacting with people and technology.  

Tworetzsky identifies six skill subsets, roughly corresponding to the different phases of development:

  • Strategic thinking: brainstorming, structuring thinking, driving strategy, becoming a go-to expert
  • Communication: writing and providing presentations and emails, interpersonal engagement
  • Collaboration: leading and participating in meetings, solving problems, diffusing team member conflicts
  • Technical: writing scenarios, performing analytics, building prototypes, knowing Search Engine Optimization
  • Detail orientation and QA:  writing clear functional specifications, catching mistakes and recovering from errors, delivering on time, navigating options, achieving outcomes
  • Empathy/User science: interviewing, prototyping, using analytical tools, understanding and representing needs, synthesizing results

How do I Become a Product Manager?

Many people migrate to PM jobs mid-career. Prior roles in marketing, engineering, business analysis, or general management provide viable pathways, although typically, a PM will have a solid foundation in at least one of three areas (UX, tech, or business).

To make the jump into a role as a Product Manager, it’s helpful to build a portfolio that can demonstrate your technical abilities. Core competencies include developing an understanding of Agile methodologies, such as Scrum, to build technology products and learning how to ideate and test your minimum viable product. If you’re looking to gain hands-on experience, BrainStation offers a part-time course where you can work on collaborative projects to apply techniques and develop your skills.

If the idea of bringing products from ideation to market intrigues you, Product Management is the career for you. What are you waiting for?