Have you ever heard a product management talk from another Universe? It’s when you realize that your product management world is in another universe from the speaker’s one.
It appears that you do one thing and the speaker does something else. Then you hear another talk and see another world. It’s so confusing, it’s not clear what a product manager does. It may ruin your confidence that you are a true product manager.
There is no one ideal product manager. But you can find what works best for you. There are a lot of product manager types. Each type defines a list of competencies required for this job. That’s why the first step is to review the possible product manager’s types and understand what is suitable for you and brings you joy. For example, if you would like to create consumer products with an awesome design, have UX experience, then the API product manager role is not the best for you. At the same time, if you’re happy to engage with the developers’ community and create API platforms then Gaming PM is not your #1 option.
There is no size that fits all — there is no product manager type that can be great for everyone. Choose your type of product manager wisely. Getting into a role that doesn’t spark joy or doesn’t leverage your experience can lead to burnout and thoughts that product management is not your piece of cake. Product management can be stressful and requires a lot of mental energy, that’s why it is impossible to be a product manager if you don’t enjoy it.
Let’s have a look more in-depth into different product manager types.
Technical product manager
A great start if you move from the technical role like developer, QA engineer, analyst DevOps, data scientist. This role often exists in complicated products with a super technical domain area like payments, fraud detection, voice software, and hardware. The focus will be on the technical side of the product. A technical product manager spends more time with the internal teams — development, operations, support, training. It may consist of working with a product manager who focuses on external communications like customer interactions, sales and marketing activities, PR and promotion. In this case, the overall product success depends on this partnership.
Once I worked in this kind of partnership, I was a regular product manager working with a technical type. It was an interesting and exciting experience. We were a great match and found common ground. My strengths covered my partner’s weaknesses and vice versa. Our partnership required perfect synchronization and communication to broadcast one message without any confusion: what is our product, what is our strategy, what’s important, what are the tactical goals.
API product manager
An API product manager is beneficial to those who enjoy working with dev communities. At the same time, this role isn’t limited to the dev communities. It also requires communications with stakeholders, marketing, and sales teams. Often an API platform is a start for a marketplace, so there is great potential in the API product manager role.
UX product manager
Typically, this kind of product manager works with a product in a very competitive domain where a great user experience is a must, excellent user experience is one of the competitive advantages. As you can imagine this role can be a fit for a UX designer who wants to transition to a product management role.
Hardware product manager
Working with hardware can bring more challenges to the product management role. The hardware production cycle is longer than the software. Also, hardware production in most cases involves partnering with other hardware or software, that’s why it’s important to build relationships with partners and vendors. It means that if you have experience working with partners and vendors, you can leverage it in this role.
AI product manager
AI is a hot topic now. It is a great start for a data science engineer. At the same time, AI is not the final goal. The final goal as always is to solve the customer’s issue. In this case, using AI. AI is just a tool that helps you create a product people love. You still need to focus on your customers, not the AI.
I know a data scientist who transitioned to a product manager. And then returned to a data scientist role. The reason — product managers focus on customers, revenue, have a lot of communications, while AI gets a tiny fraction of their attention.
It’s not a complete list of product managers’ types. We can also divide product managers
based on the company’s maturity level — startup, growth, and enterprise.
Startup product manager
A product manager in a startup is like a Swiss Army knife – does everything. You can get experience in multiple disciplines and be involved in the overall business running. The side effect is you can be the only product manager in the company. It means that you don’t have a manager and mentor, a more experienced person in the product management field, so you need to rely on yourself in getting better as a PM. In this case, having a PM mentor is a must.
Growth product manager
A growth product manager is focused on the user base and certain metrics growing by running experiments. Typically the growth team is not the same as a regular team, it has sales and marketing and UX people inside it to run quick experiments. Your product is your user funnel and user experience.
Enterprise product manager
Enterprise PM typically manages a part of the big enterprise product. You have less independence in the decision-making process. You need to have excellent communication and pitching skills to be able to synchronize your efforts with other product managers and make sure you don’t step on each other’s toes and don’t create features that cannibalize each other. The pace of the enterprise product is of course lower than in the startup, but the scale of the product and the impact can be super rewarding. At the same time, your ability to communicate with the enterprise customers and your ability to keep them happy is crucial for this role.
This is not a complete list of different types of product managers. But it’s a great start for you to explore and find your best role. Don’t think it doesn’t matter what type of product manager you will be in your next role. Exploring the options you have can help you to plan your career and avoid being frustrated at your new workplace.
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