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The product manager role is one of the fastest growing, in-demand jobs on the market. 

Whether you are looking to become a product manager as a career path, or you’re just getting started in your product manager career, it’s important to understand the roles and responsibilities and how to become a great product manager. You need to have an understanding of your stakeholders, the lifecycle of product development, the business goals, the user experience, and more. 

In essence, product management sits at the intersection of UX, tech, and business. 

Business objectives are achieved through project management by bridging the communication gaps between design, development, the customer, and the business.

User Experience (UX) is a primary focus of product management, representing the customer inside the organization.

Technology is a key component of product management, because the engineering department is active every day in developing the product. As a product manager, a thorough understanding of computer science will take you far.

Let’s take a further look into what to expect in your role as a Product Manager.

A Brief History of Product Management

Product management began in 1931 when a marketing manager at Procter & Gamble named Nail H. McElroy wrote a 300-page proposal on why the company needed “brand men”—or rather, people who manage specific products. McElroy went on to become an advisor at Stanford University where he influenced two up-and-comers in the industry: Bill Hewlett and David Packard.

Hewlett-Packard consistently sustained fifty years of 20% Y/Y growth by implementing McElroy’s “brand man” philosophy, and other companies followed suit, creating their own developments and processes to streamline product management. 

With the emergence of new technologies in the 1980s, agile processes and greater acceptance of “brand management” roles gained traction in software companies. Then, in 2001, the Agile Manifesto was born, which paved the way for streamlined, unified product management roles by breaking down department silos and outdated processes. Today, its 12 principles continue to inform the roles, functions, and goals of product management and how we connect cohesively with all the stakeholders and developers of our brands.  

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What is Agile Product Management?

To put it simply, agile product management is about guiding a product through several iterations or versions using the Agile methodology or a version thereof. The process is a lot more fluid and flexible than typical approaches, allowing for major changes in the product and its marketing.

Product Manager Job Overview

The product manager role is responsible for the prioritization of a product’s release course and product life cycle, as well as for coordinating all the processes needed to get a product not only ready for the market but onto the market as well.

This includes:

  • Determining the stakeholders involved, both internal and external
  • Determining metrics for success
  • Collecting and interpreting customer feedback
  • Determining product features

A product manager must be able to bridge any gaps between company teams that are working on a product and the product’s final trip to release. A successful product manager will be able to create strong cohesion amongst cross-functional teams, which might include the product team, the engineering team, the sales team, and the customer support team. 

In terms of specific tactics to achieve this, a product manager needs to create product roadmaps, as well as determine the overall product strategy, product vision, product development, and product features to include in the product’s lifecycle.

What’s The Most Important Thing A Digital Product Manager Does?

When I asked Daniel Zacarias, co-founder at career.pm and product manager blogger at Folding Burritos, he said:

The most important thing a product manager does is communicate a clear vision and strategy. It’s the only way to help the team create a product that serves the needs of both its target market and the business.

To effectively communicate this strategy, the product manager needs three core competencies:

  • Storytelling: Taking the perspectives and experiences of the customer through research, and then delivering that information to the rest of the team in a compelling way.
  • Marketing: Understanding the competitive market landscape, taking the brand’s established marketing techniques, and incorporating the voice of the customer to market products in a way that engages with customers.  
  • Empathy: For the customer and their pain points, the product developers and how they work, and upper management and their dreams for the brand—empathy allows for intimate understanding of all stakeholders and their goals.

Parts of the Product Manager Role

A product manager has multiple job responsibilities, which requires them to wear many hats. Let’s take a further look at some of these hats that a successful product manager will need to wear. 

  1. Product Specialist

A product manager is expected to be a market and product specialist. They have been hired to know the industry market and product. Knowing the customers as well as the competition and overall market is part of the role. Product managers have domain expertise. 

A product manager must:

  • Have a solid understanding of the roadmap and overall product strategy 
  • Be able to prioritize which new features in the backlog will be added to the product
  • Understand the customer needs and be able to interpret customer feedback
  1. Business Specialist

Product managers are not CEOs, but they can act like the CEO of the product being developed. They have a good handle on the whole process to make sure that it creates profit for the company. They must have strong business skills along with industry knowledge and be able to blend the two for the best possible product outcome. 

A product manager must:

  • Understand and manage the stakeholders in the product, both internal and external
  • Have an understanding of the key metrics for the product’s success
  • Conduct market research and have a deep understanding of business trends and competition 
  1. Leader

A significant part of a product manager’s duties involves leadership. That doesn’t just mean being able to bark orders. Part of the product manager's skills should focus on being able to guide and support people, as well as build a strong team throughout the production process. 

A product manager must:

  • Coordinate cross-functional teams to ensure all team members are on the right page 
  • Be a decision-maker using strategic thinking and guidance from the product team
  • Work with the product team, the engineering team, customer support, the sales team, and other teams to ensure a strong product vision 
  1. Operations Specialist

A fourth part of the product manager's role is in the area of operations. They need to work on both the large and small details of the management of a new product. Knowing how operations work and what is needed means you can either do things or delegate them to keep everything running smoothly. 

A product manager must:

  • Have an understanding of the current product backlog
  • Understand the development process of the product—while that doesn’t have product managers in the trenches coding with developers, they will be working closely with the engineering team to ensure they understand how the product works

7 Key Product Manager Responsibilities

Product manager roles and responsibilities are vast and varying. The person in this role needs a significant production and business background. Here are many of the core PM responsibilities.

  1. Sets Product Vision And Roadmap

This involves using the vision of the company and the desired outcome of a product to create a product roadmap and an overall product strategy to implement the vision and goals.

Setting the product vision requires collecting and interpreting customer feedback, and working with cross-functional teams to determine the future course of the product. This will include taking a look through the product backlog and determining and prioritizing which new features will be added to the product. 

  1. Analyzes Customer Needs

Part of a product manager's responsibilities is to search out, gather, handle, and prioritize customer needs and wants. Knowing the market requirements is key to a successful product. They need to understand why customers buy products as well as what the competition is doing.

In order to develop a user experience that will satisfy customers, product managers need to take part in customer interviews to collect user feedback and interpret customer needs by both taking what they say at face value and inferring needs from their feedback. A product manager will work closely with the customer support team to determine key pain points that the current product is not addressing, and how to create solutions to address this customer feedback. 

  1. Acts as an Advocate

The role description for a product manager includes the responsibility to advocate for customers and their needs. If there are issues with product-market fit, the product manager must advocate for what the customer wants.

It can be all too easy for the engineering team to think that what they build as a solution will be understood by the customers without further guidance. A successful product manager will be able to point to customer feedback to determine whether the best possible user experience is delivered to the customer. 

A product manager will always keep the business goals in mind and play a key role in the decision-making process to ensure that the product meets the needs of a customer. 

  1. Gathers the Team

There are many players in the product management process and the product manager needs to make sure that engineering, sales, marketing, and customer service are working as a team to meet the business case and customer goals.

A product manager must know how to ensure effective cross-functionality between teams. This requires strong communication guidelines to ensure that everyone is on the same page in regards to the overall product vision. 

  1. Tests Programs

As the product gets closer to the end, product managers are responsible for running the beta and pilot programs. They will also repeatedly review work that is completed and make sure the product is meeting customer expectations, as well as oversee iterations of the product as needed. 

For this, a product manager should be familiar with the agile framework to get rapid feedback and make adjustments. A product manager will want to have an understanding of what has been successful in the pilot programs, and through interpreting customer feedback, how to improve the product in future iterations. 

  1. Thinks Like an Innovator

Product management has the key responsibilities of building new business cases for new products, making improvements to those that have already been produced, and looking for new business ventures.

As mentioned, a product manager should think of themselves as the CEO of the product. Through constant user research, a product manager can determine whether customer needs can be met by iterating on the current product, or whether a new product altogether would be a better idea. 

  1. Take On the Presenter Role

A big part of a product manager's role is the responsibility to provide complete reporting and documentation. This includes business cases, market needs docs, and product roadmaps, just to name a few. 

There are others such as case studies, product comparisons, and competitor analysis that may also be needed. Documentation for presentations and data sharing are a large part of the product management role as well.

In order to effectively convey customer needs, a product manager needs to be a storyteller, as well as use data and metrics to back it up. 

How The Product Manager Role Varies Across Companies.

As the product manager role is still fairly new, there’s not a single consensus on what the role is—however, best practices have begun to emerge over the years. 

What will be considered a product manager role at one company might not be considered a product role at another. While a startup is more likely lead by a founder who wears lots of hats (including the product role), a larger company will be more specialized in product roles. Some of these specialized roles include product owners, platform product managers, or technical product managers

As such, the product management career path has a lot of variables—but just as many opportunities!

Want To Become A Product Manager?

If your goal is to become a product manager or you are new to the position, there are many roles and responsibilities you have to fulfill. 

You need product manager skills and a background in both the business and the product. Necessary skills and knowledge include knowledge about product production, good written and verbal communication skills, and tech skills. While many people who are interested in or are already in this position have a bachelor's degree, some have an MBA or other extra training in business and marketing.

Being a product manager gives you a training ground for further advancement into executive roles. Learning more about engineering, development teams, and the creative side is a big bonus of the position as well. The more you learn and grow, the better your chances at moving up are.

Subscribe to The Product Manager Newsletter to stay on the leading edge of the field. Being a product manager lets you see the benefits of a job well done and a product that is enjoyed by your company's customers, propelling your business to success. You can also learn from these experts in product management

By Ben Aston

Ben Aston is an online media entrepreneur and founder of Black & White Zebra, an indie media company on a mission to help people and organizations succeed.

Ben applies his expertise in design and strategy to enable businesses to deliver innovative products and services that delight customers. Ben is passionate about understanding customer needs through design research, identifying opportunities based on those insights, and empowering designers and technologists to create solutions. He is driven to develop and uncover new opportunities for clients, establishing strong connections with their customers through product solutions that create lasting value.