Software product development is one of the most common commercial product areas in the world. With that popularity, comes an influx in jobs related to product development, especially the manager's role. However, the diverse nature of the job makes it important for you to understand what product management is, and what the job description entails in 2021.
Management jobs, in general, have all become quite convoluted and all-encompassing, in terms of specific responsibilities.
Luckily, product management is still one of the most rewarding and satisfying positions for future product leaders.
In case you're looking to take on the role of product manager, keep reading. In this article, I've broken down what product management is, the responsibilities that come with it, the technical skills required for the job, some product management job roles, and how to be the ideal product manager in 2021. If you're interested in learning more, watch the video below. Otherwise, skip ahead.
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Table of Contents
What is Product Management?
Product management is the oversight of various activities that start from conceiving a product idea, all the way to launching a potentially successful product.
A product manager is at the center and often the leader of the product development team. They are responsible for finalizing the product vision and making sure that everyone involved stays true to it for the entirety of the product roadmap.
The activities that typically come under the product management umbrella are:
- Managing the new product development process
- Coordinating between product owners and stakeholders
- Developing the general product strategy
- Addressing customer feedback and prioritizing customer needs
- Implementing strategic decision-making throughout the product life cycle
In short, anything to do with deciding how a product should work, what features it should have, and what customer pain points it should address, all of that is the responsibility of the product manager.
It's important to not confuse product management with 'project management', which is based more on planning and monitoring, instead of hands-on management.
Product Management Roles and Responsibilities
As mentioned earlier, manager roles are now more diverse than ever in terms of specific responsibilities, especially with agile scrum software development replacing the traditional waterfall methodology.
However, there are still some basic responsibilities that all product managers have to take on as part of the role.
Here are the 5 prime responsibilities of the modern product manager.
1. Customer Research
Detailed customer research is the cornerstone of any good product strategy and it's the manager's job to both lead the product management team's research efforts and conduct their own research on a higher level.
One of the primary product requirements is the ability to solve an actual problem for the user. That's also one of the qualities that make it a good product-market fit.
While conducting research, product managers are responsible for:
- Gaining full expertise about the immediate and expanded market of the product
- Creating user personas based on detailed analysis of user stories and typical use cases
- Analyzing competitor strategy and product approach
- Understanding the short, intermediate, and long-term impact of the product given current market circumstances
Additionally, product managers plan and conduct customer interviews and outreach efforts, all in order to create as great a customer experience as possible.
2. Developing Product Strategy
The strategy behind the product is just as important as the quality of the product, if not more.
A strong product strategy involves considering the space the product fills in the market, implementing features that allow the product to address customer pain points, and instilling optimal functionality in the product.
While developing a product strategy, product managers are responsible for:
- Utilizing the industry knowledge they've accumulated to decide how the product should be developed
- Creating practical objectives and goals with regards to the product
- Developing a rough overview of the product as well as the development process
- Deciding on a timeline from conception to product launch
In addition to these, managers are responsible for deciding on the product vision and making sure that none of the people involved ever deviate from it.
3. Communicating Product Plans
Any product development process is incomplete without a coherent plan that dictates which activities are to take place at what time during the product roadmap.
However, the stakeholders, especially the leadership and investors have to be made aware of each part of the process. This increases the level of internal support a product has and invites constructive input from all parties involved.
While communicating the product plans, product managers have to:
- Get investors, executives, developers, and project managers on the same page
- Enable and facilitate communication channels across cross-functional teams
- Implement stakeholder feedback into the product at any stage of development
- Maintain ongoing communication with key stakeholders after launch
One important element of communicating product plans is keeping the development process open for adjustments and modifications based on feedback gathered as part of communication.
4. Coordinating Product Development
Once they have exited the strategy phase and attained the go-ahead from the key stakeholders, product managers can push the product into the development phase.
However, an important part of development is coordinating between the multiple teams involved in product development. These include product marketing, sales, development, and project oversight teams.
While coordinating product development, product managers are responsible for:
- Building key communication across teams
- Being a cross-functional leader for on-point operations and development
- Providing support to team members on multiple levels
- Gathering and implementing actionable feedback between teams
In some instances, the majority of a product manager's responsibilities may be geared towards coordination. Such a case will be a good opportunity for professionals who have worked in a coordinative capacity in the past.
5. Analyzing Customer and Market Data
In this day and age, using data to its optimal capacity is the biggest differentiating factor between a basic product and one that makes waves in and beyond its space.
Product managers are the point people when it comes to accumulating data in one place and gaining valuable and actionable insight from it. Additionally, they lead the data collection and analysis efforts and set the long-term parameters for it.
While analyzing customer and market data, product managers have to:
- Solicit direct feedback from prototype users, pre-launch testers, and developers
- Examine use cases for similar products or product strategies
- Collect user stories based on the established user personas
- Analyzing how the market has responded to products like this in the past, and how companies have adapted to customer demands
Prioritization of data seems to have a lasting positive effect on a company's bottom line, regardless of industry. It's safe to assume that software development is no different, which adds to the responsibilities of a product manager.
Typical Skills Required for Product Management
Being a management position, in the end, product management requires the skill range that is typical for the manager's job role.
However, the 'product' aspect of product management requires a set of skills unique to that role.
Here are the basic skills needed for product management in 2021:
1. Strategic Thinking
It's important for product managers to be able to forecast market situations, come up with rational solutions to complex problems, implement deductive reasoning while analyzing customers, and being decisive at major product roadmap points.
Additionally, they need to be able to define the product roadmap to and for anyone, while predicting how long each stage should take, and how to better position the product based on existing market cycles.
2. Empathy with Customers
The end-user is the source of any software’s success, or any with a product, for that matter.
To that end, managers need to be able to empathize with users, understand the typical problems they run into during common use cases, and create actual solutions for them based on their direct feedback. They should also be able to read customer data from a slightly partial perspective.
3. In-Depth Understanding of Data
As mentioned, data is the difference between an ordinary and outstanding product, and product managers need to both understand this and do something about it.
Managers don’t have to be advanced statisticians and/or mathematicians to perform this job, however, they do need to have a basic understanding of how data is accumulated, what actionable insights look like and how to gather them, as well as how to make data-driven decisions.
4. User Experience and Design Knowledge
A keen understanding of what constitutes a good user experience, and how to implement it into a product is a must-have for any product manager, especially one who is working in the SaaS space.
That, coupled with some design knowledge will help them implement features that improve the lives of users and make it easier for them to use products.
Other than these, it's important for a great product manager to be a great communicator.
If you're looking to get the skills to become a top product manager, then check out our product management certification courses.
Product Management Positions
The product manager job comes with a variety of responsibilities, all of which dictate what the specific position is called.
Here are some of the common job examples that product managers can expect to find in the greater job market.
1. VP of Product
The vice president of product is a senior position that’s directly below the Chief Product Officer in terms of seniority.
Due to their position within a company’s product development space, they’re responsible for most of the decisions when it comes to the features, capabilities, and scope of the product. Additionally, they may hold executive power in terms of dictating the product timeline.
Their direct responsibilities include managing the product across various points in the product roadmap, assigning and managing development and marketing budgets, as well as presiding over all product-related communication.
2. Chief Product Officer
The chief product officer is the head of product development and management at a company. They are the last person to sign off on a product before it enters any prominent phase in its life cycle.
CPOs hold a unique role in the product management sphere, seeing as they’re not as hands-on with their management as some of the team leaders and managers. However, due to the bird’s eye view that their position grants them, they can easily step in and perform more hands-on management if they feel the product is going in a direction that’s not good for it, or the company.
For the most part, they are responsible for the greater product strategy, leading all the active product teams, and coordinating with other c-suite executives.
3. Group Product Manager
Group product managers are fundamental management professionals who lead groups of senior product officials working on a single product or campaign.
This is another unique position as it’s geared towards managing other managers and making sure that they are performing their tasks as required. They may not be as involved in the product development process as direct team leaders, but their involvement is important nonetheless.
The group product manager is not a very common position in the industry today. That said, it’s ideal for anyone with people-management experience who wants to move into fully-fledged product management.
4. Product Owner
In terms of rank, a product owner is typically the lowest on the corporate hierarchy. However, this is only in terms of actual rank, as product owners have more extensive responsibilities.
Just like fundamental product managers, product owners help define the features a product needs to have, as well as their importance to the product and the users. In addition to that, they work closely with the developers to ensure that the customer demands and management decisions are understood and properly implemented.
Product owners may also act as coordinators between end-users and the product teams, helping implement the features that potential users will find most useful.
The History of Product Management
The history of product management can be traced back to the early days of Ford Motor Company. They had a problem with getting their designers and engineers working together on car designs. They needed someone to reconcile the two groups' conflicting goals so that they could deliver on time and within budget. What Ford did was to create a separate role for someone who could get the two groups working together. Thus, the product manager was born.
The first product managers were valued for their ability to broker agreements and negotiate between groups rather than technical skills or an ability to predict the future – a trait that endures in many organizations today. What we have come to recognize as traditional Product Management is a 20th-century version of this model with the addition of specific technical skills being added to the job description. (Agile product management is not based on this approach.)
What is Agile Product Management?
Agile product management is a new way to look at the role of Product Manager. It attempts to solve many of the problems that exist in the current approach followed by most organizations—large and small.
Agile product managers value speed, customer focus, continuous planning, and iteration over predictive estimates. They realize that software development is a creative process where prediction is difficult if not impossible.
Final Thoughts on Product Management
Regardless of which you apply to, it's important for you, as a potential product manager, to gain as many of the skills required by companies today as you can.
To do this, simply go through product manager jobs, note down the primary skills and capabilities that companies require in a manager, and try to attain them via online courses or internships.