The role of a product manager can feel like a master of all trades, and in some ways, this is true. It requires a knowledge of the whole company and the complete specification of the product being developed.
This feels too big to comprehend, so it is essential to be more specific about the role of the product manager and what the responsibilities might include.
Who Is a Product Manager?
The product manager is someone who discovers the viability and value of a product, whether it is feasible and then manages that product to market.
It also, for some product managers, means managing the whole life cycle of a product, including upgrades and improvements, problems and removal from the market when the life of the product comes to an end.
A product manager is positioned at the point of overlap between customer experience, technological development and business. It is likely that a product manager began their career in one of these three areas but always maintained a passion for the other elements.
The best product managers may secretly have a bias towards one of these three core functions of the company, but they will also have a passion for all three and comfortably converse with all these professionals.
Above all else, the product manager serves the business functionality of product development. It is about getting the most value out of a product and liking these to the business goals of the organisation. Ultimately, the success of a business manager is maximising the investments possibilities.
The best product managers will also be conversant in the technicalities of the product. The abler a product manager can be in engineering and designing, the more capable they are to make sound managerial choices for the sake of profits and user experience.
High level of technical knowledge can help to best judge the effort involved in a production. Most of the day for a product manager will be spent with the development team, so it is a good idea to be able to speak their language.
Yet, success for the best product managers is based on user experience. Getting first-hand feedback on the product and user satisfaction data from the sales and marketing department are like nectar for the product managers. Having a view of an analytics dashboard and access to a focus panel is essential for successful managing.
Although all this suggests that the product manager is managing a product, in fact, they are managing a workflow. Therefore, they need to be a master of a full breadth of skills. They are coordinating across the company, bringing separate silos together to work efficiently to the end goals.
The Responsibilities of a Product Manager
There is a list of key responsibilities that reflect the role that has just been defined. However, it is better to consider what obligations you should put at the core of your practice be the best product manager.
Creating a roadmap for your product
A roadmap is just another way of describing a strategic document that conveys the reasons for decisions in the product development and lifecycle. To build this roadmap, you collect and analyse data continuously, ensuring the roadmap evolves to account for the evidence obtained.
The business intelligence will be regularly available and in a variety of forms. One of the key responsibilities will be to make sure the decisions made, and the reasonings for these decisions are written in a way accessible to all stakeholders.
Explaining your roadmap to stakeholders
Transparency about the priorities that you have laid out in your roadmap. Product managers are responsible for how the goals of a project are interpreted and communicating how they came to their understanding of these goals is crucial.
If you want all departments to be onside in the journey of the product, whether it is sales, marketing, engineering, or the executives, then product managers need to be transparent about how and why the decisions are made. “Just because you can” is not a reasonable way to access the support of those people who will deliver the product.
Understanding when to say ‘no’
Time and time again product managers will receive suggestions from stakeholders that just don’t scan with the data or do not correlate with the needs of another department. Engineering may want some classy feature, but sales might tell you that it will set the price point too high.
No matter how passionate a stakeholder is, even if this stakeholder sits in one of the executive offices, being able to say ‘no’ with true and reasoned justification is one of the most critical responsibilities of the product manager.
Prioritisation and balancing the needs of stakeholders
As a product manager, you must be ruthless about balancing the needs of stakeholders, including those of the customer. There will be limited resources of time, money and expertise and sometimes a product manager takes of the responsibility of weighing competing factors.
There are models that can be used to weigh these priorities in a systematic way, such as the Kano model, which uses a point-scoring methodology to help make balancing needs more science than instinct. However, much here refers to the idea of being able to communicate decisions clearly and dispassionately successfully.
Apply evidence-based decision-making
Decisions are best justified using evidence from data and customer experience information. Using such evidence makes the decisions made far more compelling. A product manager would need a stellar reputation to get away with suggesting their instinct is enough to warrant a significant risk on a hunch.
Using real-time user data is the ideal source of information, though if this is a new product, it may not yet be available. It might be that you cosy up to your IT team and ask them to produce modelling programs that can use historical data in other fields to help provide useful data on some levels.
Product Manager vs Project Manager
Both roles carry the title PM, and both to a degree manage a workflow. Product managers sometimes take the responsibilities of a project manager and vice versa. However, the questions asked by both roles are notably different.
Project Management is about when something should happen, with a close eye on the schedule. A Product Manager is more focused on why something should be achieved in a certain way.
In some respects, both roles require coordination and communication across a company. However, the functions are fundamentally different.
A project is temporary and is undertaken to achieve a unique outcome – whether this is a product, a service or a specific result. A product is dictated by its lifespan, which is not necessarily defined at the start of the development process.
A project manager will be focused much more on the internal machinations of the company, whereas a product manager will look outside the organisation for the customer and the competitor.
A project manager will be focused on time, budget, risk, reward and the scope of the project and how its success will be judged. A product manager is more interested in the value the product will bring and how to sustain a competitive edge and therefore a financial benefit for the business.
The overlap in the roles comes from the skills set needed to achieve positive outcomes. Both functions need outstanding organisational and interpersonal skills; they are essentially leaders. Both roles require strong time management skills and the communication skills to talk to a range of stakeholders.
There is a lot of debate whether the same person can do both roles. However, with the split perspective inside and outside the company, many argue that it is troublesome to give the same position, with two very different objectives, to the same person.
The role of a product manager is to act as CEO for their product. They will take on ultimate responsibility for the success or failure of the product, and therefore a good product manager can bring a significant value to a company.
Some product managers see themselves as nothing more than an extension of the marketing team, but in truth, they span the departments and will take what happens in the lifespan of the product personally.
The outstanding product manager has a definite role to play in the success of a company in relations to its goals. They can also deliver the customer experience that builds a lasting reputation and a permanent loyal customer base.
By recognising the importance of data in formulating decisions, whether this is legacy customer satisfaction data or focus groups, an excellent product manager can put the customer at the centre of product development.
As a product manager must have a view of the big picture but an eye for the small detail, they are the best people to ask about the workings of a company. Through the roadmap, a product manager can capture the ethos and values of the company and keep the organisation on track.
The role of the product manager is to communicate, lead and decision-make, using a mind-boggling breadth of skill.