Product management is one of those business buzzwords that gets thrown around a lot. However, not everyone fully knows or appreciates the term's full scope. This is a shame because product management is arguably one of the most important aspects of a company, affecting every other department from marketing to operations.
So what is product management, and what do product managers do on a daily basis?
Martin Eriksson, a top product manager with over 20+ years of experience, famously described product management as "the intersection between business, tech, and user experience." We think it's an excellent way of succinctly answering the question, "what is product management?"
Simply put, product management is a multi-disciplinary approach to the development cycle of a company's products. It encompasses every step of a product's life, from idea development and execution to pricing and marketing. As long as it affects the performance and profitability of a product, product management most likely has a hand in it.
The goal of product management is to ship and create the best, most high-performing, and profitable products that are tailor-fit to the market's needs. That last bit is crucial because even the best product will be a flop if no one wants to buy it! Hence, one of the critical tenets of product management is ensuring that the customer's voice is well-represented during development.
The product management process is both an art and a science. There are no "one-size-fits-all" principles and solutions that work in all instances. Every company, product, market, and niche will have unique needs and challenges that require customized solutions.
A product management approach ensures that every product (or at least most of them) you release solves your customers' problems and helps advance business objectives.
While this might seem obvious to most executives, the truth is that this is harder to achieve in practice. Because when it comes to launching products, businesses are mostly concerned with internal matters. In other words, how much can they earn from a product to hit sales numbers and keep shareholders happy? Unfortunately, the customer's needs often take a backseat during these discussions.
Product management ensures that the company has the market in mind when designing products. Think of a product manager as the customers’ representative inside the company. They make sure that product features are a good fit for what the market needs. Product managers also ensure that the customer's language is used when marketing the product to communicate the benefit to them effectively.
In today's crowded marketplace, product management's market research aspect can also differentiate your company's offering. It can help you pinpoint untapped opportunities and adapt your products to take advantage of them. You can innovate your products objectively based on what people think and not just what you think.
On a more organizational level, product management coordinates different departments' efforts such as marketing, design, engineering, and customer support into a coherent strategy. It helps focus these different groups' efforts and ensures the goals and vision of the product are met.
Product manager responsibilities encompass a wide variety of business areas, both external and internal. Their roles are well-defined yet fluid, adapting based on the product's needs and where it is in the development lifecycle. In fact, you won't ever find a standard job description for a product manager.
However, there are a few key similarities that define the product manager role.
Research is a big part of the job. After all, the data they gather drives almost every aspect of a product, from its features to pricing. Product managers are experts in research techniques, defining user personas or avatars, and thoroughly understanding the competition. They are also adept at interpreting data to find patterns and insights they can learn from.
With data in hand, product managers proceed to their next important responsibility: product strategy. They are the ones who define the goals and vision for the product and decide how these can be achieved. Creating a timeline for product development is also essential to your success.
Effective communication is a vital cornerstone for product managers. They need to share their plan with upper management and encourage them to rally behind that vision. After that, product managers also need to coordinate different departments from design to engineering to ensure everyone follows the product plan.
Finally, product managers are also heavily involved in marketing. Since they know both the target market and product intimately, they are the best person to direct proper branding and messaging. They oversee everything from launches to PR and even packaging design.
More than anything, product managers are product owners. They need to be on top of anything that relates to the success and life cycle of their products.
A product manager is a multi-disciplinary role requiring a diverse skillset that involves more than just technical know-how. Creating reports and planning skills are crucial, but not as important as leadership skills and relationship management.
That's why entrepreneurial types, with their independent and proactive work ethic, are often the best fit for a product manager role. They often treat the product as their own business and take full responsibility for its success and failure. It has led many to dub product managers as the "CEO of the product."
Since they will be working with both customers and internal teams, emotional intelligence is crucial for success in a product manager role. They need to empathize with customers and truly understand their pains and desires. Emotional intelligence also helps them work better with internal teams to foster relationships that move their goal forward.
However, this reliance on relationship building doesn't mean that product managers don't need a technical skillset. That is still very much a huge part of the job.
For instance, product managers need to have strong business management skills. They need to understand business concepts from procurement to finance. Marketing is an especially crucial area for product managers to master, or at least be proficient in. More than anything, they need to integrate the target market's voice into the messaging of the product.
A product manager's more common technical skills include road map planning, pricing, revenue modeling, user testing, and resource allocation.
Compared to more traditional roles like finance and marketing, there isn’t a traditional course to take if you want to be a product manager. Thanks to its multidisciplinary nature, product management proficiency mostly comes down to experience and learning on the job.
The easiest way is to get into a product management-related role at a firm, such as an associate product manager. You can then work towards a promotion into a senior product officer or manager role handling a company’s entire product line.
There are, however, other career routes that can transition into a product management role as well. For example, a product or tech background can be a good training ground. Some tech development managers in software companies know the product on such a profound level that they can successfully influence its creation. On the flip side, an experienced business marketer with a strong interest in UX and tech can also be a natural candidate for the role.
If you want to get a product management role in your organization, the best strategy is to find a project that you can "own." This can be as simple as finding a solution to solve a persistent problem in the workplace. While this isn't managing a product per se, side projects like these involve two of the most critical aspects of product management: problem-solving and research.
We've discussed many of the skills and responsibilities you need to succeed as a product manager. Doing these alone should get you pretty far in your career.
However, to truly succeed in product management, you need to align your product plan to your company's overall strategy. This ensures that your business succeeds when your product strategy succeeds. As a result, you’ll avoid superficial wins, like when your product's sales are up, but those sales are not benefiting your company’s bottom line.
Achieving this alignment is more challenging than you might think. That's because you need to, ironically, put the company first instead of the product.
Falling in love with the product is a temptation for any product manager. However, doing so can only serve to diminish your effectiveness. If the product you've spent months working on isn't exactly helping corporate goals, you should consider letting it go. Or, at the very least, be objective to upper management about the situation.
In the end, product management is incredibly simple yet challenging at the same time. It requires a lot of insight and experience in a variety of fields, from marketing to tech.
Alternatively, you can tap into the wisdom and know-how of an experienced agency like Expedition Co to help with your product management needs. Our solutions range from web design services to custom software development. If you need to talk regarding your project, connect with us to start the conversation.