What, exactly, is a Product Manager? "Product people - Product managers, product designers, UX designers, UX researchers, Business analysts, developers, makers & entrepreneurs May 05 2021 False Career, Product management, Mind the Product Mind the Product Ltd 817 The product manager venn diagram Product Management 3.268

What, exactly, is a Product Manager?

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I often get asked what a product manager is. What do they do? Where do they come from? How do you get into product management? Why do they like sharpies so much?

Product Management Venn
© Martin Eriksson, 2011

In his book Inspired, Marty Cagan describes the job of the product manager as “to discover a product that is valuable, usable and feasible”. Similarly, I’ve always defined product management as the intersection between business, technology, and user experience (hint – only a product manager would define themselves in a Venn diagram). A good product manager must be experienced in at least one, passionate about all three, and conversant with practitioners in all.

Business

Product Management is above all else a business function, focused on maximising business value from a product. Product Managers should be obsessed with optimising a product to achieve the business goals while maximising return on investment. Sorry, this does mean that you are a suit—but you don’t have to wear one.

Technology

There’s no point defining what to build if you don’t know how it will get built. This doesn’t mean a Product Manager needs to sit down and code. However, understanding the technology stack and level of effort involved is crucial to making the right decisions. This is even more important in an Agile world where Product Managers spend more time daily with the development team than with anyone else inside the business.

User Experience

Last but not least the Product Manager is the voice of the user inside the business and must be passionate about the user experience. Again this doesn’t mean being a pixel pusher but you do need to be out there testing the product, talking to users and getting that feedback first hand— especially in a start-up.

Manage what exactly?

Why do you need this breadth of skills? Because the role itself is incredibly broad and varied and you’ll be using them every day.

Vision

It starts with setting a vision for the product. This requires you to research, research, and research some more your market, your customer, and the problem they have that you’re trying to solve. You have to assimilate huge amounts of information—feedback from clients, quantitative data from your web analytics, research reports, market trends and statistics. You need to know everything about your market and your customer, and then mix all that information with a healthy dose of creativity to define a vision for your product.

Once you have a vision, you have to spread the word in your business. Get dogmatic, evangelical even, about the utopia that is your product. If you can’t get passionate about it, you’re in the wrong job or you didn’t come up with a very good vision. Your success, and that of your product, relies on every team member. From sales to a developer, understanding that vision and being at least a little bit passionate about it as well is important.

Build a roadmap

And then you switch gears again and start building an actionable plan to reach that vision. A roadmap of incremental improvements and iterative development that take you step by faltering step closer to that final vision. This is when all that hard work preaching the good word pays off. Your team throw themselves into coming up with better designs, better code, and better solutions to the customers’ problem.

Detail, detail, detail

Now we get really detail-oriented. As you work day in, day out with the development team as a product owner—defining and iterating the product as you go, solving problems as they pop up, and closely managing scope so you can get the product out on time.

The product is finally out there and suddenly you’re spending your days poring over data again. You’re constantly looking at how customers use the product, talking to them about the product, and generally eating, sleeping and breathing the product. Did you solve the right problem? Do your users get the product? Will they pay for the product?

And then you do it all over again. And these days it’s not a waterfall process. You’re not doing this step by step, you’re doing this for a dozen products or features at any one time, switching from strategy to tactics in the blink of an eye.

Sound tough?

Sure it’s a tough job but it’s just about the most fun you can have with your clothes on—certainly the most fun you’re going to get paid to do. You get to define the very essence of a product, design solutions to your customers’ problems, work with everyone in the business and play a very large part in your business’s success. We’re the unsung heroes of the tech world—or at least we’d like to think so…

Discover more content on Product Management or use our Content A-Z to find even more product management content.

I often get asked what a product manager is. What do they do? Where do they come from? How do you get into product management? Why do they like sharpies so much? [caption id="attachment_12863" align="alignright" width="300"]Product Management Venn © Martin Eriksson, 2011[/caption]

In his book Inspired, Marty Cagan describes the job of the product manager as “to discover a product that is valuable, usable and feasible”. Similarly, I've always defined product management as the intersection between business, technology, and user experience (hint - only a product manager would define themselves in a Venn diagram). A good product manager must be experienced in at least one, passionate about all three, and conversant with practitioners in all.

Business

Product Management is above all else a business function, focused on maximising business value from a product. Product Managers should be obsessed with optimising a product to achieve the business goals while maximising return on investment. Sorry, this does mean that you are a suit—but you don't have to wear one.

Technology

There's no point defining what to build if you don't know how it will get built. This doesn't mean a Product Manager needs to sit down and code. However, understanding the technology stack and level of effort involved is crucial to making the right decisions. This is even more important in an Agile world where Product Managers spend more time daily with the development team than with anyone else inside the business.

User Experience

Last but not least the Product Manager is the voice of the user inside the business and must be passionate about the user experience. Again this doesn't mean being a pixel pusher but you do need to be out there testing the product, talking to users and getting that feedback first hand— especially in a start-up.

Manage what exactly?

Why do you need this breadth of skills? Because the role itself is incredibly broad and varied and you'll be using them every day.

Vision

It starts with setting a vision for the product. This requires you to research, research, and research some more your market, your customer, and the problem they have that you're trying to solve. You have to assimilate huge amounts of information—feedback from clients, quantitative data from your web analytics, research reports, market trends and statistics. You need to know everything about your market and your customer, and then mix all that information with a healthy dose of creativity to define a vision for your product. Once you have a vision, you have to spread the word in your business. Get dogmatic, evangelical even, about the utopia that is your product. If you can't get passionate about it, you're in the wrong job or you didn't come up with a very good vision. Your success, and that of your product, relies on every team member. From sales to a developer, understanding that vision and being at least a little bit passionate about it as well is important.

Build a roadmap

And then you switch gears again and start building an actionable plan to reach that vision. A roadmap of incremental improvements and iterative development that take you step by faltering step closer to that final vision. This is when all that hard work preaching the good word pays off. Your team throw themselves into coming up with better designs, better code, and better solutions to the customers' problem.

Detail, detail, detail

Now we get really detail-oriented. As you work day in, day out with the development team as a product owner—defining and iterating the product as you go, solving problems as they pop up, and closely managing scope so you can get the product out on time. The product is finally out there and suddenly you're spending your days poring over data again. You're constantly looking at how customers use the product, talking to them about the product, and generally eating, sleeping and breathing the product. Did you solve the right problem? Do your users get the product? Will they pay for the product? And then you do it all over again. And these days it's not a waterfall process. You're not doing this step by step, you're doing this for a dozen products or features at any one time, switching from strategy to tactics in the blink of an eye.

Sound tough?

Sure it's a tough job but it's just about the most fun you can have with your clothes on—certainly the most fun you're going to get paid to do. You get to define the very essence of a product, design solutions to your customers' problems, work with everyone in the business and play a very large part in your business's success. We're the unsung heroes of the tech world—or at least we'd like to think so... Discover more content on Product Management or use our Content A-Z to find even more product management content.

183 thoughts on “What, exactly, is a Product Manager?

  1. Thanks for sharing all this interesting information about product managers. I absolutely think that they have an important role, with lots of responsabilities and tasks. I will recommend for every product manager although marketer to count with solutions that can make their job much easier, for example with a PIM system! I’m totally in love with this software! Find here more info about it: http://blog.saleslayer.com/what-is-a-pim-system

  2. Spot-on. We use a diagram very similar to the Venn diagram used here – we call ours the ‘product management triangle’ and it includes these three disciplines. Very important to iterate as you go – even if you aren’t calling it ‘agile’. Collect feedback, listen to your teams, stay focused on your user.

  3. I really wish Product Analysts received as much respect, but they get paid half as much and I think the work is pretty similar, if not even more in the weeds of customer success which can be quite difficult

  4. THANKS
    I CHECKED MYSELF I AM ON THE RIGHT TRACK.
    YOUR EVERY STATEMENT HAS LIFE IN IT. IN FEW MINUTES I FELT MYSELF.
    GREAT.
    THANKS AGAIN.

  5. @peterstienberg +1
    What’s missing from this diagram is customer service and marketing. Doesn’t mean a PM had to do these tasks but unless all these components are thought through while building the product, post-release usually is a dud and full of fire fighting tasks.

  6. I enjoyed reading this. Nice article! I find my job as a product manager interesting and my portfolio includes the Wardrapp, an iPhone wardrobe assistant app available on the App Store.

  7. I’ve been struggling to find a clear description from an appropriate authority on what product management entails, and this is streets ahead of anything I’ve previously read. This is what I’ve been doing for 17 years in various guises and flavours, so I’ve got another fancy title to now add to my CV! Thanks for providing enlightenment 🙂

  8. I just got promoted to Product manager for my restaurant. This information was very helpful. I had no idea what this new promotion would include, because I am in the food industry. But, I have a better image of what is to come. So thank you.

  9. This is indeed a description that I was looking for. Thank you for sharing your valuable insights regarding product management jobs. I would be grateful if you share your thoughts on product manager jobs in IT outsourcing companies as well.

  10. I have a one question, Is it only technical person can became a product manager. Because I read everything above you mentioned. I am a UX/UI designer. I understand Product, Not by coding. I have six year of experience as working UX/UI cum asst. product lead. I understand devices what are the functionality feasible or not. I understand Business, along with design. I understand product quality level. Some were people ignore me as product manager, because am not technical person. About my education i did BVA ( Bachelor of Visual arts).

    Thanks

  11. This is an amazing article! I wonder yet whether the title of “Product Manager” should be changed to “Digital Product Manager” or “Online Product Manager” to further clearly define the role in itself.

  12. The best training for a kick arse Product Manager is: Creative Direction, Design Direction and Project Manager with #SCRUM/#AGILE training. These posts are the synthesis of the modern billet of Product Manager. (as all bring real-time products to market) @creativemf

  13. Thanks for the insight. I was hired as a Product Manager, in my current company, the so called number one e-commerce company in India, and after I joined few people have been spitting venom, telling me that PMs normally are people who come from Stanford, Harvard, MIT, IIT, ISB, IIMs of the world. And I have been wrongly hired. I now realize that I fit this role perfectly as I see myself exactly at the center. Though there is significant learning to do on the actual job, I’m sure I’ll continue in this path.

  14. Great article and great user comments. Goes to show you that it’s not a one-size-fits-all role and hugely dependent on the industry and company. That said, I explain it to people as akin to “walking through a maze and solving a rubik’s cube at the same time.” … one must execute the tactical but always a keep a keen eye on strategy and long-term objectives. Probably the best training ground for an entrepreneur because you are exposed to all aspects of the business. In the end, it’s about intense curiosity, exceptional communication and problem solving – and making money!

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