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Product Manager: Description, Responsibilities, How To Become One

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Product Manager. A word that is simple but a job that is complicated. If you search on Google, the term ‘product manager’ you will be bombarded with one line descriptions to a 600-word article. Here are some:

Product Manager is a person with a long-term vision and strategy for the company's products which he/she communicates to all the relevant participants and stakeholders.

Product Manager is a leader who works across teams to get product designed, built and launched. He/she is responsible for obtaining data, analytics, and expertise together and making final decisions over the product development.

As you can see, all of them say different things. That’s because it is different in terms of what they do. The title of Product Manager remains the same but the role played by a person in a company will be different from others. However, despite the role played some aspects of the job of a Product Manager are alike. Every Product Manager has to deal with these elements – product, customer, business goals, people involved in development, i.e. company employees, executives, and stakeholders.

So, back to the question. What is a product manager? What is a product manager’s job description?

To keep it simple, Product Manager is someone who manages a product. To elaborate, a Product Manager manages the various aspects of a product. It usually starts with ways to innovate or improve a product. A Product Manager looks after a product so that it stays valuable for both the company and the customer. While a company sees a valuable product as something that generates revenue and profit, a customer views a product as relevant when it provides value by fulfilling their needs and demands.

A Product Manager (PM) needs to retain the value of a particular product by juggling the resources. In a company, the product manager is at the nucleus of UX, Tech, and Business. It is a position that is responsible for and accountable for product development, commercial aspect, and user experience. It is quite a tricky job. So, product managers need to have these characteristics:

Multidisciplinary

A Product Manager needs to be good at one of the product disciplines (UX, marketing, etc.) as a minimum. This knowledge helps them understand the various aspects of the processes involved.

Strategic

A PM should be able to come up with plans on how to solve a problem. Planning helps avoid unnecessary resource utilization and hence, improve the effectiveness of resources.

Persistent

Product planning faces constant challenges. A successful PM always needs to be determined and motivated to meet those challenges.

Collaborative

Product creation is not a single man’s job. It is a collective effort from the various parts of the company. Hence, Product Managers should be able to work cooperatively. Every aspect of the product goes through the Product Manager. It is the kingpin that keeps all the elements related to product together in harmony. A PM needs to have a strong sense of teamwork to be able to lead people. He/she should have the ability to bring diverse people from different parts of a company with different beliefs and opinions united under their vision.

Product Managers need to be problem-solving product visionaries who look after the customer needs and their expectations by managing ideas and feedback while strategizing what and how to meet business goals with doable targets. Their association with a product links them to various aspects. Executives and stakeholders, designers, salespeople and customers, all perform a specific task in the product cycle. Executive and stakeholders provide funding, designer design the product, salespeople sell the product, and the customer buys the product. Your job as a Product Manager would be to balance all these simultaneous acts.

Let’s take a closer look at what are the responsibilities of a Product Manager.

Responsibilities

As we talked earlier, the job title of Product Manager remains the same, what differs is the role that a person in that position plays. It depends on several factors – the size of the company, type of company, type of product, the stage of a product, the culture of the company.

A product manager has their head engaged to many things. Starting from managing concepts, product design, sample production of a product, testing and forecasting to cost of a product, its mass production, product promotion, customer support, and finally product end of life.

In the corporate world, the PM task is to achieve the growth objectives for the business with elements like higher market share, more revenue and profit, and more substantial ROI on products and service channels offered by the company. So, the person needs to be good at managing and implementing marketing activities through research, strategic planning, and its application.

Product and People

Two things dictate the responsibilities of a Product Manager – product and people. Product aspects deal with factors like product vision, planning and prioritizing to build a product roadmap, leading the product execution and testing, getting feedback and iterating development.

A PM needs to have a clear idea of the product’s impact upon the market; the objectives it aims to achieve and also the life cycle. Product vision helps guide what the product aims to make out of the market. It could be more substantial sales or more brand exposure. While product vision speaks about the outcome, product roadmaps help navigate through the market to achieve those goals. Roadmaps are a set of plans and strategies intended for implementation to acquire the desired goals. Succeeding product vision and roadmaps comes the phase of product execution where the Product Manager supervises over the product concepts take material form and get ready for market testing. Market testing secures feedback and suggestion which are taken into consideration for future development iteration of a product. This cycle of testing and development iteration continues until the product becomes market-worthy for production.

The people aspects have influences like manage ideas and feedback, executives and stakeholders, developer team, design team, sales team, and marketing team. Since this aspect involves people, the Product Manager requires good people/social skills. It is a tough job; managing people, delivering expectations over deadline via the workforce while making critical decisions regarding a product’s future. Also, it is intended that a PM is acquainted with some other product disciplines. Experience in marketing, UX, software development or any discipline helps to realize how every job differs from one another which in turn makes the PM understanding of the process involved. Product Managers should be organized, naturally curious, be humble and good at managing people and resources while thinking about the bigger picture with practical, deliberate ideas, and be full of passion.

Although Product Managers are at the head of the process, it does not mean they can throw in commands at their wish. They are accountable for every action they take from the people above and the people below. So, let’s discuss how Product Managers make vital decisions.

Being transparent about priority and roadmap process

It is given that as PM, a person has to make decisions. Be it resource allocation or accepting suggestions, for every step they take and perform an action, PMs need to explain the why behind it. They have to support their decisions prioritizing one thing over other with proper reasoning. A roadmap process is a long path peppered with various unknowns. PMs have to put out their reasons along with their roadmap ideas so that the people having questions understand their point of view.

Being able to say no and explain why

Be it a yes or no; a Product Manager has to ‘articulate’ when they say NO to something. Explaining why you favor one option over other is more natural than reasoning why you rejected a decision. Your NOs should have proper evidence and strategy backing to avoid misunderstandings and conflict. Don’t let the hierarchy of PM position fool you that one can get away without clarifying why you cannot grant a request.

Being able to prioritize while balancing the needs of customer and stakeholder

No matter how big a conglomerate, every company has limited resources. A Product Manager has to prioritize factors and objectives. It is a fine art of maintaining the balance between resources to achieve business goals. So, one can view PMs at one instance supporting a notion and at other instance standing against a concept. They need evidence-based decision making while having any communication. That is because decisions backed by strategy and evidence have much more value. Decisions supported by evidence will be much more effective than a mere opinion from someone.

How to become a Product Manager?

Before diving into the sea of product management, you need to have figured yourselves out. By that what I mean is know your skills, interests, and strengths. There’s no point looking into product jobs if your interests lie somewhere else. Sure, you could look at it just as a job, but having passion and enthusiasm for the job you are working goes a long way to ensure productivity and learning.

That been said, there is a wide range of roles for Product Managers. These roles differ according to what the company wants from their PM. It could be a creative or technical role. Maybe the company wants someone to work on the innovative side of things, generate ideas or show a different perspective to things. Alternatively, a company might wish to have an individual to look after the technical aspect of a product; something like design or UX.

Also, when looking for a product manager job, one needs to consider the work culture of a company. While some companies prefer testing with new ideas and invoking changes to the organization, others establishments might act foreign to such notions of deviations and stick to the usual approach. An individual should work on finding a work profile that matches their work ethics.

Now, that we know something about what to look out for when searching for a product job, let us focus on getting hired.

Being visible

It is simple. No one is going to hire you if they don’t know you exist. But, you might ask 'how do we go about letting our existence known to the companies?' With the evolution of the Internet, there are many online communities hosting people related to product management. Participating in these communities is an excellent way to slowly surge your presence and show interest in the product scene. Leave comments on other people’s work, get involved in a discussion. All help.

Alternatively, you can make use of the old trusted method of meeting people. Try attending meetups like seminars to expand your network and learn things. You will gain first-hand experience from such sessions while making new connections which will be useful in the future. One more thing, whenever you meet someone never shies away to admit that you are interested and looking for a job. Chances are they might be looking for someone to hire and even if they are not, they might know someone who might be looking to hire.

Step into the market

Look into job boards or connect with HRs of companies. Keep constantly eyeing for any employment opportunities. Don’t just look into managerial positions. Look for jobs that are related to the product scene. Remember, with hard work you will always progress and reach that coveted Product Manager position. So, starting a bit lower, i.e. in disciplines (UX, market, sales) is not a bad thing. Starting lower helps understand the inner workings of the product development process and will make you a better PM in the future.

Being prepared

Always stay connected with the industry. Read books, follow blogs and podcasts. Do things that keep you up-to-date with the latest in the industry. Following listed are some of the best books on Product Manager:

Product Leadership by Martin Eriksson, Richard Banfield, and Nate Walkingshaw

The Lean Product Playbook by Dan Olsen

The Art of Product Management by Rich Mironov

This article was a short insight into Product Manager, what it is, what are their responsibilities and how you can step into the industry and be a Product Manager.

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