As product managers, the one question that we get asked every now and then is: "What does a product manager do, anyway?"
Unfortunately, many of us still stutter while answering this question since product management is a versatile career path.
To be more specific, the product manager role tends to vary heavily depending on the product lifecycle and the stage of the company.
Due to this variability, there is a wide range of day-to-day activities, but ultimately, a product manager is still responsible for doing whatever it takes to collaborate with multiple development teams and move different conversations towards closure.
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What is a Product Manager?
A product manager is someone who champions a product. A product manager's job is to lead the development and marketing of a product through all stages of its life cycle, from beginning to end.
Whether you are in marketing or engineering – every member of your team should be thinking about how to improve the value proposition and increase sales. A product manager can guide teams through this process.
In terms of team structure, a product manager is not involved in the day-to-day activities of an engineering or design team but rather functions as their leader and guide, working with these teams to ensure they are building the right things in the right way. The product manager works closely with the rest of the organization to ensure that development is proceeding in a manner consistent with the needs and goals of the business.
What Does a Product Manager Do?
In this article, we’ve provided two examples of day-to-day activities for the following two product manager roles:
- Consumer Tech PM
- Mobile Gaming PM
Additionally, we'll discuss the general responsibilities that all great product managers know how to effectively fulfill.
Hopefully, by the time you're done reading this, you'll have a better understanding of the job description of PMs, and if you happen to be one, you'll be better equipped for next Thanksgiving when aunt Kathy asks: "What does a product manager do, sweetie?"
Let's dive right in!
A Day in the Life of a Consumer Tech Product Manager
To provide you with a glimpse of the product management role, let's off by discussing what a consumer tech product manager does.
There's a lot that tech companies expect from their PMs.
Here is the daily schedule of an actual individual (broken down into two halves of the day), that summarizes the consumer tech product manager job description:
The First Half of the Day
Here's how a typical consumer PM kicks off their day:
Wake up and check the Outlook mail app on my phone to make sure there aren’t any high priority issues that popped up overnight. Immediately after, I usually check my company’s Slack to see if I got any new direct messages from anyone that need to be immediately addressed.
I remind myself what a terrible morning habit it is to wake up and be reactive to email / Slack, but it’s something I haven’t been able to avoid lately. I stretch for 20 minutes while listening to a podcast, and then hop onto my laptop to read some industry news and blogs to make sure I’m up to date.
I head into the office and eat some breakfast while checking my Asana (where I keep track of personal tasks) to see what P1 items I need to get completed for today.
There are a few comments/feedback on a feature spec that I sent out the night before that I need to spend some time addressing or taking into consideration when editing the spec.
After 30 minutes, I take some time to respond to a few Zendesk tickets containing feedback sent in by our users. A few tickets contain some ideas for features and I make sure to document those ideas in our backlog to be prioritized later.
First meeting of the day. There’s a recurring PM weekly sync where the PMs get together and talk about what they did last week, what they have going on this week, and any questions they might have for the rest of the group.
It’s a good way to get all the PMs aligned at a high-level on what’s going on, or what we need to look out for since a lot of our products have a ton of overlap when it comes to user workflows.
Every week, one product family presents a product review to executives and the rest of the product team. During the product review, a PM presents an overview of recent launches and any available metrics, upcoming launches, top user needs, and a view of the broader product roadmap.
This week is my product family’s turn to present, so I spend some time updating some slides and pulling relevant metrics and insights from Mixpanel/querying our database.
I want to make sure that I’m not too swamped for the week, so I grab lunch from the kitchen and spend the lunch hour working at my desk. I occasionally take breaks to respond to a few personal emails.
The Second Half of the Day
So far, so good.
Only a few hours in, and the PM has already accomplished so much. After all, creating a successful product for consumers isn't a cakewalk.
Here's what the rest of the day's like:
For most software teams, updates to products are made in “releases,” and within each release, there are a set of tasks in the form of JIRA tickets (JIRA is a tool used by many engineering teams to document, plan, and assign tasks/improvements/features/bug fixes) that should be completed.
To make sure that all code changes are properly accounted for and tested before releasing live on production (in simple terms, code in “production” is anything that is live for users), our engineering team does a code freeze at the beginning of the week. At this point, it’s up to PMs or QA to testing any JIRA tickets that were slotted for the release.
I spend some time testing any tickets that are relevant to my product family to make sure that they are working as intended in our products. I then close out the tickets or re-open any tickets that I notice still have bugs or need extra work.
I head into another cross-functional team meeting for my product family. This meeting brings together any relevant stakeholders for the product family including members of the Engineering, Design, Operations, and support teams.
Every team provides quick updates on the status of the projects they are working on and we collectively discuss any roadblocks or ongoing issues.
2:30 PM - 3:30 PM
We are in the process of re-designing our product family’s mobile web-app and the designer on the project has already completed a prototype on Invision to test with users.
Our goal is to sit down with a few user volunteers and conduct a few usability tests to see what parts of the re-design could be improved.
I’ve written a test script of questions/tasks that we’d like to ask users to complete on the prototype, and I spend an hour reviewing the script with the designer to make sure I’ve covered all elements of his re-design.
3:30 PM - 5:00 PM
Another work block to finish up some ongoing tasks for various projects. I answer a few questions from an engineer about some spec details for a feature he’s working on. From there, I check in with our Operations team to review a launch email that we have queued up for the launch of that feature later in the week.
5:00 PM - 6:30 PM
I finish up my slides for the product review slide deck, review some changes suggested by my lead PM, and head home for the day.
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A Day in the Life of a Mobile Gaming Product Manager
Let's have a look at the daily routine of a typical mobile gaming product manager:
The First Half of the Day
From working on the core product development to analyzing customer feedback, mobile gaming PM’s have a lot on their plate.
For that reason, they tend to utilize every single minute of their day:
Wake up and check major blogs/news aggregators in my industry to make sure I’m up to date with what’s going on with the industry and competition. Check my Google Doc PM Task List and add/edit any items I need to complete for the day. If I have extra time, I’ll try to complete at least 20-30 minutes of the online course I happen to be taking at the time.
It’s important for me to be constantly learning a subject I’m not familiar with to make sure I’m personally growing. I try my best to avoid email until I get into the office. Otherwise, I just end up spending my valuable morning time responding to emails, or worse, cleaning up my inbox.
Head into the office, grab some quick breakfast, and get ready for the daily morning standup with my dev team.
Every day, we run a daily 15-minute team standup, which is generally a standard part of the agile development process. In this meeting, we have a dedicated Scrum Master who runs each session, and everyone answers three main questions:
1) What did you work on yesterday?
2) What will you be working on today?
3) Are there any problems hindering you from completing your work?
10:15 AM - 11:00 PM
This time slot is generally reserved for answering emails and KPI updates. One of the first things I do is update all of my KPI dashboards to make sure metrics aren’t out of whack and that everything is running smoothly.
If I notice anything strange going on with any metrics, I may dive in further to help identify any issues.
11:00 PM - 1:00 PM
I’m working on a fairly new project right now and we have frequent meetings around feature planning. Our team likes to do “jam sessions,” where engineering/design/PMs all in a room and contribute ideas towards a new feature we are trying to build.
It’s important that I come into these meetings well prepared with my own thoughts, wireframes, and insight from our customers to help guide the conversation. While it’s important to get everyone’s input and ideas, I also want to make sure we prioritize and stay within our development scope. That way, ideas won’t just run away into much larger-than-planned features.
1:00 PM - 1:30 PM
Grab a quick lunch with co-workers and generally just hang out. I’m fortunate that my co-workers are also really good friends and we all get along really well.
The Second Half of the Day
The afternoon goes like this:
1:30 PM - 4:00 PM
I spend some time sitting with our sales team. In gaming, we call them a live-operations team, and they handle events and sales within our games. We discuss a new admin tool that our sales team wants our dev team to build.
I sync up with the engineering manager to briefly discuss technical product requirements and then spend some time wireframing (in PPT, we don’t use anything fancy like Balsamiq) the tool and passing it along to the engineering manager who gets the right dev member to working on the tool.
I also spend a lot of time pulling data to run ad-hoc analyses on recent features that went live, as well as, dig into why our acquisition rate has been slowly dropping recently.
4:00 PM - 5:30 PM
Meet with Product Marketing to get a sense of what our recent yields have been looking like and to decide whether or not we want to ramping up marketing spend. We’ve been worried about rising CPI (Cost Per Install) lately and wanted to test various ad creatives to see if split testing various ads might lead to lower user acquisition costs.
Ultimately, we decide we want to hold off ramping marketing spend until we can isolate the source of lower yields recently (which could be product, market, or marketing related).
5:30 PM - 6:30 PM
I’ve wanted to do a post-mortem analysis for our team to review how one of our recent features has been doing, and I finally have some alone time to get some work done. I’ll spend some time running some SQL queries and doing some data analyses to help create a presentation that I’ll present to the team tomorrow.
6:30 PM - 7:00 PM
Run through my personal work checklist in my notebook one more time and briefly plan out what I want to get done tomorrow. Depending on the day, I might grab a beer with the co-workers before heading home for the day.
General Responsibilities [Specific Things That a Typical Product Manager Does]
As you can see from the schedules above from the perspectives of two different product managers, the day-to-day role of a PM can vary drastically.
Alongside these sample day-to-day tasks, below are some general responsibilities of a product manager (and what most PMs have to fulfill):
1. Stand-up Meetings
If your startup runs an agile development process, you may hold “scrums.” This is when the team gets together and talks about what they worked on the day before, what they will be working on that day, and if there are any hurdles preventing anyone from efficiently doing their work.
A good scrum-master will be able to guide conversations and make sure no one gets too far into the details of any particular task. During these stand-up meetings, the goal isn’t necessarily to solve any roadblocks, but rather to help notify the right team members so that they can work on those issues outside of the meeting.
2. Talking to Customers
Whether in person or through other mediums (customer support tickets, phone, video conferencing, etc.), you should be spending time with your customers to understand if what your team is building is useful/valuable for your customers. Time with customers will also help you plan upcoming features.
3. Product Backlog Management
This involves managing the product feature backlog to make sure that your team doesn’t have any time in between feature development. It also includes prioritizing which features your team needs to work on first in upcoming sprints.
4. Strategy Planning
As a PM, I always keep a backlog of short, mid, and long-term product feature ideas. It’s extremely important to always be thinking about whether or not these ideas make sense given recent market changes or data analyses that you’ve performed.
Depending on how lean your organization is, you may or may not be creating comprehensive specs outlining new features, which includes contextual information behind the feature, such as business goals. You may also be doing wireframes to be included in the spec. Additionally, you will go over specs with the rest of your engineering/design team in feature planning meetings (it may be a rather iterative process).
5. Meetings with Other Teams
You’re going to spend a lot of time in meetings. Depending on the size of the company, you’ll spend time with various cross-functional teams like sales, marketing, business development, etc. You’ll also occasionally be meeting with upper management to keep them up to date with what’s going on or convincing them to align with your product vision.
6. Data Analysis
Data is crucial to making well-informed product decisions, so PMs should be able to understand (and hopefully pull) the data they need to run analyses. Learning SQL and Excel are a must to run basic data analysis on the job.
A good product manager is very organized when it comes to gathering information from various teams, and properly summarizing/documenting the most important information to be shared with appropriate stakeholders.
For example, I need to maintain a clean product roadmap with estimated completion times and release dates. Not just for myself, but also to share with product marketing so that they have a heads up as to when they should working on new campaigns or ad creatives.
Wrapping it Up
As you can tell, successfully filling in the role of a product manager isn't so easy.
There's a lot that a typical product manager has to do on a day-to-day basis.
Furthermore, if you want to truly succeed in your PM career, you’ll need a range of qualities, including, but not limited to:
- Communication skills
- Decision-making power
- Ability to understand customer needs and improve user experience
- Analytical skills
And the list goes on.
When it comes down to it, considering the creative freedom that PMs have to come up with new product ideas, and then having the privilege of watching those ideas turn into reality - product managers have some of the best jobs in the world.
Curious what the day-to-day looks like for other product managers? See what other product managers are working on in our Product Manager HQ Community.
Clement Kao is a Co-Founder of Product Manager HQ. He is currently a Product Manager at Blend, an enterprise technology company that is inventing a simpler and more transparent consumer lending experience while ensuring broader access for all types of borrowers.