What is a product manager?
Definition: A product manager is responsible for defining product features and creating strategies to fulfill customer needs.
They are a bridge between the business side, engineers, and customers and directly influence the life cycle of a product.
What does a product manager do?
A product manager is responsible for:
- Gathering, analyzing, and understanding customer needs.
- Translating customer needs into actionable products/features.
- Conducting market research through testing competitor products and identifying new opportunities.
- Defining the vision of the product and the strategy of the product.
- Developing long-term and short-term product roadmaps that correspond to the product vision.
- Envisioning the branding, design, and uses for the product together with the corresponding experts.
- Communicating the product vision and plan with the upper management and stakeholders.
- Gathering customer and stakeholder feedback and incorporating it into development decisions.
- Guiding the development, design, and testing teams throughout the product life cycle.
Key skills for product managers
This role requires soft and hard skills as the product manager works with people as well as products. They must possess:
- Strategic thinking - The ability to see the big picture, create long-term strategies, and divide them into actionable plans for product success.
- Communication skills - Knowing how to effectively communicate with developers, managers, and stakeholders and ensure everyone understands the objectives of the product.
- Project management - The ability to plan, organize and manage the project budget and timelines to ensure everything is complete within them.
- Technical knowledge - A solid understanding of technologies used in product development.
- UX design - A good understanding of customer needs regarding the usability of products and knowledge on how to improve it.
- Market research - Spotting patterns in customer needs and discovering competitor products.
- Data analysis - The ability to make decisions based on the past and current states of the product, business, and team using data.
- Cross-functional collaboration - Working effectively with people from different departments and understanding their function in the product’s lifecycle.
- Envisioning - The ability to take ideas and interpret them into a product/feature concept that can be executed.
Product manager vs. product owner
These two roles are very similar and have overlapping responsibilities, but the main difference is that the product manager is a strategic role. In contrast, a product owner is a tactical role.
A product manager supervises and oversees product development, managing processes, and creating the product roadmap. They analyze customer behavior and feedback and create a product vision to solve their problems. In essence, a product manager focuses on the long-term fulfillment of the product.
A product owner is a scrum development position that gathers customers' needs and translates them into user stories (an actionable part of the product vision). They are responsible for ensuring the development team follows the roadmap laid by the product manager and that engineers and designers understand it. Unlike the product manager, the product owner focuses on short-term product features.
In short, the product owner works with the product manager, translates the product's bigger picture into actionable items, and manages their development.
Types of product managers
Product management is a massive industry with companies having different objectives and requiring different skills.
Because of this, project managers focus on different areas of specialty. They can be:
- Generalist product managers (GPM) are the most common type, with a wide range of skills from product discovery, delivery, and adoption to technical and business skills. They are comfortable working on various projects, but if the company needs a specific set of skills, they will opt to hire another type.
- Technical product managers (TPM) have a deep understanding of technology and software development because, in most cases, they were software developers in the past. They work closely with developers, suggest which technologies to use for the customer's needs, and know how much time and resources are needed to build a product/feature.
- Growth-focused product managers (GfPM) understand the market and customer acquisition. They work closely with the growth team to identify market opportunities and customer needs and develop strategies for scaling the product.
- Marketing product managers (MPM) understand marketing concepts and their product’s customers. They work on branding, positioning, and the product’s message with the marketing team focused on developing and executing a product marketing strategy.
- Analytic product managers (APM) work closely with the analytics team to track product metrics. They use data like customer behavior, sales numbers, and the market state to create better product strategies and make better development decisions.
- New venture product managers (NVPM) own the discovery of new products and lead the production and launch of the product from day one. They develop new ideas, form teams, and bring products to the market. They need to be skilled in many areas as they are usually the only product manager in the company; sometimes, they are the CEO themselves.
Besides these six, many other types are combinations or parts of the previous types that exist. They are business, visionary, design, platform, domain, and project product managers.
What is a typical career progression for product managers?
A standard looks like this:
- Associate product manager.
- Junior product manager.
- Product manager.
- Senior product manager.
- Directo of product.
- Vice president of product management.
- Chief product officer (CPO).
Depending on the specialization and company, the progression can look different, with some roles being skipped or added.