Jackie Bavaro, Product Lead at Asana, describes product management as “the best job you’ve never heard of.” While that may be the case, the popularity of product management has grown in recent years. Larger technology companies recognize that the best product managers may just be the people who have not yet heard of the role, but have the ability to wear many hats—and wear them well.
In this article, we’ll discuss the role of the PM throughout the entire product development process.
What is a product manager?
Product managers foster interdisciplinary thinking by collaborating with engineering, design, and strategy teams to ideate and eventually launch a great product. Their work is generally in alignment with company goals, but they also prioritize the best interests of the teams they manage and the users they create products for.
The job of a product manager involves maintaining a high-level focus, working with stakeholders, and prioritizing product success throughout the product development life cycle. That means coming up with an idea, iterating on that idea, and finally measuring its success.
What does a product manager do?
Product managers are responsible for overseeing the full product life cycle—from ideation to launch. Their success is largely dependent on not only the success of the product, but also how well the product fits into the larger goals of the company. They keep a high-level focus on turning ideas into reality, gauging competition factors, and guiding the overall direction of a product.
Turning an idea into reality
Before turning an idea into reality, PMs need to assess where the product currently stands:
- Is the product doing well?
- Are users requesting the addition, revision, or deletion of a feature?
- Is product engagement translating into the right amount of revenue, or could the company do better?
Product managers examine the current landscape before making decisions on officially bringing an idea to life. They also assess the resources available within their company to see whether or not the idea is feasible. Resources could be monetary, employee-based, or governed by timelines. Once the green light is given, PMs are able to move the idea forward.
In addition to improving a product, PMs also think about how they can distinguish their product from competitors who may have similar products.
In particular, they focus on how they can make the product not only viable to their existing audience, but also engaging to a larger user base. PMs may need to either conduct research in this area themselves, or ask user research and experience teams for help.
Product managers keep the overall direction of the product in mind at all times. During iteration phases, PMs might make predictions on how successful a product will be in terms of engagement, revenue, and retention. They then evaluate these decisions with data teams and encourage their engineering team to make adjustments accordingly as the product is being built, and even after it has launched.
In addition to collecting metrics and examining them, PMs also think about how the product may benefit from market feedback or client partnerships. They also take into consideration issues that may arise relating to the economy, privacy, or legal compliance.
How product managers work with stakeholder management
While PMs are responsible for all aspects of the product, they do not work alone to build it. The majority of their work is spent communicating with other people in the company and rallying them together to help create the product. Product managers typically work with company executives, customers and clients, and the cross-functional team they supervise that is tasked with building the actual product.
Product managers speak to top company executives to translate their desires and concerns for the company into a product focus. Executives may push back on a PM’s point of view, giving them more clarity into the company’s future goals, or encourage prioritizing of another area instead.
PMs should be well-prepared to communicate with executives, providing them with evidence on why a new feature added to a product may succeed or how the team they have can accomplish a launch that satisfies the company’s timeline.
Customers and clients
Product managers also solicit feedback and conduct reviews of product performance with their current user base. Since products are designed for a company’s customers and clients, PMs need to be aware of their user’s behaviors and how they engage with the product.
Audience analysis teams can help PMs better understand these behaviors and what they should focus on to make smarter decisions about the product.
Product managers not only manage the product, but they also manage teams. Teams can be comprised of people from multiple disciplines.
At a tech company, teams are usually comprised of engineers, designers, and strategists. User research and data science teams may act as support to the team if PMs require more information on the product's user base and metrics.
PMs are responsible for delegating tasks to a team. They think about the team’s constraints—in terms of skill set and timeline—while doing so.
The end goal that a PM has is for the launched product to be successful. In order to ensure product success, product managers first release a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) and then proceed to measure its performance while continuing to hone the product.
Minimum Viable Product (MVP)
An MVP is the initial release of a product or a feature associated with a product. It includes only the essential features needed to make a product “work” and ignores additional features that may make the product look nicer.
Releasing only the bare bones of a product rather than a fully thought-out version allows PMs to see whether or not the product will actually be successful. This also minimizes the team's time commitment and the allocation of company resources.
Product managers first measure the success of the MVP. While doing so, they take into consideration a number of metrics. These might include the number of users, screen time, engagement, or customer feedback.
Success is measured both quantitatively and qualitatively. If the PM and their respective team members believe that the MVP was successful according to the aforementioned metrics, they may choose to release another iteration that addresses more user needs.
Honing the product
This may involve maintaining the product as is or figuring out new features to add to the product that would serve the user community. The job of a PM will continually involve refinement as the growing needs of users change and the market around the product develops.
Product managers are vital to many companies, but they're especially necessary in technology companies that work to maintain products used by billions of users. The need for PMs, especially those from varied backgrounds, is indeed growing, with companies such as Google, Uber, and Twitter offering Associate Product Manager programs.
If you’re interested in pursuing a career in product management at a tech company, it’s helpful to learn to speak the language of team members you might be working with. Codecademy's Code Foundations path broadly covers the fundamentals of programming, web development, and data science, and it's a great starting point for people with little to no technical background.