Driving the development and testing of a new product can be challenging, even for experienced product teams with the best product strategy.
From building a product vision to the eventual product launch, it's an issue that a lot of startups and even established companies struggle with. The lead product manager role is the solution to that.
In this article, we'll go over what a lead product manager does, their typical responsibilities in an organization, as well as how you can become one in 2021.
Let's get into it.
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Lead Product Manager Job Overview
Simply put, the lead product manager is in charge of managing the conception, development, testing, and launch of a new product.
They're the point person for all things on the product development side.
From creating the product roadmap to ensuring that all cross-functional teams and stakeholders are on the same page, the lead product manager does most of the upper-level practical management.
A Lead product manager may have other job titles as well, depending on the company they're working for. Lead product managers are also called senior product managers, chief product officers, and VP of product in some cases.
Product leads in bigger companies have several junior product managers working under them.
In this scenario, they would collaborate with a chief product owner (CPO) to build an optimal product.
Responsibilities of a Lead Product Manager
Since it's a high-level role that's almost directorial in nature, a lead product manager may have a huge range of responsibilities.
However, there are a few basic ones that every lead manager has to perform, regardless of where they are.
Here are the top 9 responsibilities of a lead product manager:
1) Create a Product Strategy
The product strategy is a vital part of the product management role, especially in companies with large product management teams.
The lead product manager analyzes the existing product requirements and devises a strategy for implementing new features and processes into the product lifecycle.
They essentially create a complete product roadmap for the associate product managers to learn, and technical product managers to implement.
2) Manage the Development Process
Most lead product managers oversee and set up processes for the entire product development process, from start to finish.
The typical product development can consist of:
- Understanding customer needs and demands
- Estimating product costs and setting pricing
- Coordinating between senior management, product marketing, and development teams
- Creating production schedules
- Setting up a product backlog with prioritization of in-demand features, and more
In companies with a vertical growth structure, a technical product manager or senior developer may be promoted to lead product manager.
3) Analyze Important Product Metrics
Lead product managers leverage a number of data sources to collect data that’s important for smooth development and launch.
These sources include customer feedback surveys, social media posts, web analytics, focus groups, and others.
Some lead managers may delegate this responsibility to dedicated personnel. However, for the most part, they create the data collection strategy and define the optimal channels for it.
4) Implement Backlog Prioritization
A clean and easy-to-understand backlog is the key to streamlined production schedules.
A lead product manager is responsible for creating a list of all the features that the public demands from the product, features that the company already has in mind for the product, and which features are necessary to push into production first.
This is to save time and resources during production and to enable a smooth launch with minimal revisions if any.
Furthermore, it serves to relieve some of the stress that the product development team is under during the production stage.
Since they have a clear roadmap to go off of, they’ll have an easier time developing a great product.
5) Optimize User Experience
User experience is arguably the most important part of a product, and a lead product manager is responsible for optimizing it to beyond customer expectations.
This begins with in-depth research of what customers generally demand from a similar product, and how accessible specific product features are to a wide range of users.
The lead product manager instructs teams to analyze and optimize each aspect of the user experience.
They do this while trying to find ways of reducing the time-to-solution, which is the time it takes for an end-user to solve a problem with the product.
6) Streamline the Product Launch
The majority of lead product managers directly oversee the product launch, while ensuring that there are no wrenches in any of the works at this final stage.
Some managers even speak directly with customer groups and gather their feedback during the preliminary launch stages.
With this knowledge, they can take the product back and implement whatever changes they deem necessary, considering the incumbent costs. They also create reports based on customer feedback.
Some executives demand reporting at this stage, and it’s the lead manager who directly fulfills this demand.
7) Collaborate with Stakeholders
The primary stakeholders often get the final say in terms of what the product will be like.
To make sure they’re making all the right decisions, a lead product manager informs them about the product at key points of its lifecycle. Furthermore, they relay development schedules, forward cost estimates, and report on customer feedback.
All of this is to ensure that the top-level management is on the same page as the most basic member of the development team, and they’re all working towards a common goal.
8) Cultivate Supplier and Vendor Relationships
Most consumer products require materials or equipment that the company might not develop in-house.
The lead product manager is responsible for overseeing procurement and maintaining a relationship with on-panel vendors while building relationships with new suppliers.
This is to ensure that the company keeps getting good prices on procured items. Furthermore, it ensures that competitors don't capture existing relationships with third-party vendors.
9) Mentor Junior Managers
Mentoring junior managers and elevating them to group product managers is another part of a lead product manager (in bigger companies).
Their counterparts in startups may be responsible for training new managers and product teams.
A single lead manager may hold training sessions for their team of product managers on a bi-monthly or monthly basis, depending on training needs.
Furthermore, they may also conduct workshops before implementing new standard procedures.
Required Skills for a Lead Product Manager
The specific skills required for a lead product manager's role depends on the company that's hiring them.
However, some of the mandatory skills include:
- A deep understanding of the product, including its place within the market, the solutions it provides to existing problems, and the complete development process it requires.
- Several years of experience in managing projects or as a part of a product development team.
- A fundamental understanding of the Agile methodology and how to implement it from scratch.
- Excellent communication and interpersonal skills to get their point across without revision and repetition.
- Experience in people management across teams and departments.
- A technical background in either product development or entry-level.
On top of this, any modern product lead should have a working knowledge of product management software.
How to Become a Lead Product Manager in 2021
Becoming a lead product manager is a matter of understanding how all the elements of product development work. Furthermore, it's about being able to implement them in real-time.
Additionally, it's about knowing how a product fits into its space within the market, what customers demand from it, and whether it fulfills that demand.
To that end, here are the steps to becoming a great product manager in 2021:
- Gaining practical experience as a product manager is vital to the role. You can start by interning as a product team member and gradually working your way up.
- Taking product management courses is a direct way to develop a working knowledge of the role.
- Working under product leaders will help managers understand the typical responsibilities of a senior position within the development side.
- Networking on LinkedIn is a great way to build a reputation as an authority on product management, and even land a job as a lead.
- Performing in-depth research on customer needs is an effective way to know exactly which features a product should have; it's knowledge that you can transfer to product teams.
According to Glassdoor, the average salary for a lead product manager is $152,938 a year. It's a high number that requires a proper career progression to achieve.
Leading a product team and answering to executives can be a challenging role to fulfill.
However, it's also a rewarding one, especially for someone with a desire to solve people's problems with the ideal product.
To succeed in this position, make sure you gain a solid understanding of the role. Furthermore, get an idea of its demands, the requisite knowledge, as well as relevant experience.