I’ll lead into this under the pretense that there are a debate and fuzziness over the key characters of a Product Manager. Depending on who you ask, where you go, how large or how small the organization is — this description will change. For example, asking Google about their description of a Product Manager compared to a startup going from Seed stage funding to Series A, will vary drastically.
Let's start by initiating some ways that other’s have described Product Managers
Product managers are responsible for guiding the success of a product and leading the cross-functional team that is responsible for improving it. It is an important organizational role — especially in technology companies — that sets the strategy, roadmap, and feature definition for a product or product line. The position may also include marketing, forecasting, and profit and loss (P&L) responsibilities. In many ways, the role of a product manager is similar in concept to a brand manager at a consumer packaged goods company.
Wikipedia tells us what they think
A product manager is responsible for orchestrating the various activities associated with ensuring that a product is delivered that meets users’ needs. A software product manager’s role varies as the software moves through its lifecycle; earlier in the development process the product manager meets the intended audience of the product to engage in requirements elicitation, whereas later in the lifecycle the product manager’s primary focus may be in acceptance testing of the product. Throughout all the stages of the product development process, the product manager represents the needs of end-users, evaluates market trends and competition, and uses this information to determine what features to build.
We’re starting to get the idea
There are many forms that this role takes. Which is why it can be frustrating for those who are in this specialty to navigate the job market. A set of requirements that made you great at a Company like Google, may not make you as qualified for a startup. In my opinion, Product Managers are still acting as a tiny silo of a CEO’s role. Leadership, communication, coordination, problem-solving and growth.
I love these tips I read from Forbes when it comes to how to be a great Product Manager:
Focus on what is important, rather than what is obvious - It’s very tempting to work on obvious improvements to an existing product, but this often isn’t what’s most important. Make sure you step back to the big picture of what is really most important for your company and its users.
Understand the importance/headroom/difficulty - Before putting serious effort into doing something, make sure you understood how much it matters to the company that the problem be solved, how much headroom there is to improve, and how hard it will be to improve.
Cause the team to have a shared understanding of the product - Everyone on the team should understand what is important, what isn’t important, what the guiding principles are, and what key tradeoffs are being made. The team should know enough to be able to execute autonomously and do the right things.
Take responsibility for making things bad - Solving a problem almost always requires breaking something else. Make sure that the team understands what they are allowed to break, and that they can redirect any resulting anger towards you.
Driving home results
I particularly love this post on Product School. It helps address the fact that part of the responsibilities of Product Managers is to drive either a series of success metrics or P&L’s forward. And in smaller sized Companies, you may not have direct P&L’s yet.
Here’s what Product School says: Product managers are expected to be driven by data. The results of their decisions must be supported by metrics that are examined over time to determine if the goal was reached or not. However, there is a trap in the numbers that can easily give Product Managers a false impression of success: vanity metrics.
The concept of vanity metrics was introduced by Eric Ries, author of The Lean Startup. Precisely, it defines measurements that look good on paper and to the media. Conversely, these metrics provide little insight into what’s the cause and what to do next. You can see examples of vanity metrics every day such as an increase in visits, number of downloads or user growth.
In conclusion, your definition of this role will evolve both as a leader, as an individual contributor, and as a growing Company.