A product manager is entrusted with the high-level business objectives of successfully bringing a new product or product line into the market. This role is smack right in the middle of business, technology, and design.
Product managers are most sought after in technological companies where product creation and reinvention are fast paced and competition abounds. They are the link between the company and the market; thus, they may need to be a cross-functional leader that touches on all departments that deal with the product—from conceptualization to launch.
Role and responsibilities
So, exactly what does a product manager do? The overall responsibility of the PM is to execute the product strategy. This includes conceptualizing the product or product line, conducting features and marketing research and analysis, positioning, building product roadmaps, pricing, and working with the marketing, design, development teams.
The PM sees to it that the product is developed and launched strategically, and that it continually receives support and improvement. Every product has different cycles and depending on the nature of the product or company, the product manager adjusts its role to fit the requirements. Some product manager roles deal less with the product development and data science, and more on the decision-making on the business and marketing side.
Day to day, the PM defines the product roadmap, sets sales objectives and pricing, researches on customer needs and user experience, plans and communicates product development strategies, develops marketing strategies, and oversees the product team.
The PM’s time is mostly used in coordinating within the company as well as external stakeholders, or in creating and fine-tuning plans and strategies with regards to the product. The PM is aided by roadmapping software and product management tools to make sure everything is moving. Also, the PM is mostly expected to be sitting in all meetings where the product is discussed and for a lot of tech companies, that is most of the time.
A good PM knows how to work on various facets of product execution without under-supporting or overburdening groups or processes. The measure of a great PM is found on the success of the product and its continual relevance withstanding the influx of competition.
The PM wears many hats having to deal with different departments. A good PM should have the following skills:
Strategic thinking for setting product vision, long-term and short-term objectives based on overall business goals and constraints.
Interpersonal skills for dealing with different people within the company and as well as end users and external stakeholders. They are expected to be a team player, and independent at the same time.
Communication skills for getting plans across all participants in the product execution. This also means reaching out and listening to the end user needs.
Analytical skills for dealing with market research and various data necessary to position the product in the market and for process optimization.
Technical proficiency for understanding the product and the development. This also applies to using team management, project management, time management tools, research analysis and roadmapping software.
Research skills for target market demographics, user experience, pricing, positioning and post-launch. Having subject matter expertise about everything important to advance the product is a crucial skill of the product manager job.
Leadership skills for making difficult product decisions and trade-offs.
Marketing skills for go to market plan, product launch and product release.
Delegation skills for effectively optimizing resource allocation.
Prioritization skills for managing the basic day to day to-do list of product management.
Collaborating skills to work with the marketing or product marketing team members.
Building great products that support the products customers.
Types of product managers
There are several types of product management needs and it always depends on the nature of the company. Below, we are identifying the five common types of product managers, key skills of each and their responsibilities.
Technical project manager – The TPM is probably the most capable among the developers of a product. Their experience as developer ensures deep familiarity of the product and valuable contribution when it comes to technical aspects of the product creation and development. They know what deliverables could be accomplished quickly, and where to invest more time for development. Their best asset is their relationship with the developers and the technical knowledge of the development backend.
Analytical/Data Science Product Manager – The APM is primarily an expert analyst of the company. This archetype presents data science-backed results to influence business decisions. Their responsibility is to research and analyze target markets and ensure that their product meets the needs across all target demographics, and if successfully launched, stay relevant in the market regardless of market saturation. This is a data-heavy task and will most likely be in-demand for tech companies with existing market competition. Extensive experience in SQL and Multivariate Testing among other tools is crucial for APMs. Furthermore, APMs should always be informed about the performance of their products and of competition as well.
Marketing Product Manager – The MPM brings to the table the voice of users. They are tasked to understand their target market, from personalities to lifestyle, and ultimately, their buying motivation. Most of the product management archetypes are only necessary for a phase or cycle—generally, TPMs are the go-to expert while products are being introduced and innovated, and APMs to survive market saturation and every time business decisions need backing up from research—MPMs are necessary throughout the launch cycle of a new product, which in tech companies can be quarterly or annually. This role can be confused with the brand manager, but the former does positioning, targeting and pricing better. MPMs’ arsenal include PR, advertising, and all things marketing. Their familiarity of the product should enable them to position it in the best light, despite weaknesses or altogether, make the product flawless and blemish-free. There is a lot of strategizing in MPM roadmaps since they are dealing with end customers.
The latter two are some of the rarer types of product manager:
Task-Oriented Product Manager – The TOPM is unlike the first three PMs as the TOPM exists to get things done quickly and by all means. This role demands to get the deliverables accomplished at the target time, and will demolish anything that gets in their way, in a sense. TOPMs are very necessary in cutthroat competitions whether for a high-intensity startup or for a mature, hard-charging private company. They are hired to mitigate risks, maneuver the company away from default-delay mindset, and deal with bottlenecks. It’s a bonus if a TOPM is specifically skilled as the first three, but they may be given project goals that are not just about customers, data or development.
Visionary Product Manager – The VPM is focused on strategizing and laying out the roadmap of execution rather than prioritizing execution itself. They possess unmatched perspective when it comes to building strategic features. Their supervision is more than just over the product and the production line, but also the impact it creates for the company whenever a product line is introduced in the market. They hold the big picture in mind and plan in years, not just the monthly targets, and much less the day to day processes. VPMs are expected to understand their company in and out, from the niche market where they began to the larger market they will take on should they expand, their weaknesses and strengths. The best VPMs are none other than the founders, trailblazers, or those who share the vision.
Is a product manager a good job?
Product management is a high-paying job given the workload and challenges it takes to birth a product. But it could be a very fulfilling role with opportunities for growth. In a product-centric market, a PM is seen as a coveted teammate. Some PMs find gratification less when they reach or surpass specific target profits, and more when their vision for the product and its integration to the life of their users is fulfilled.
Product management is one of the most lucrative career paths in the US. According to Glassdoor, project managers make an average of $108,992 per year in the US, while indeed reported $105, 657.
How to become a product manager?
Applicants in the PM role are expected to specialize in a field that is connected to the products or if not, has an extensive knowledge on how to propel the products to success. That said, PM candidates are most likely already working with the company and are transferring to the product and cross-functional teams to execute the launch and development of the product.
Depending on the size of the company, project management could be just a one-man band or a unit with multilevel PMs: Associate PM, PM, senior PM, product lead, group/director PM, and others. PMs are also responsible for their own trade tools, be it for roadmap set up, cross-functional team management, or research platforms.
What are the best companies to work for?
The rise of tech companies prompted the redefinition of the role of product within an organization and the creation of product experts that go beyond the usual tasks of a brand manager. Naturally, product managers are found but not limited in this niche. With the variety of tasks product managers handle, specialized PMs tend to gravitate towards companies that suit individual skill sets and experiences.
Technical PMs are often employed by giants such as Google, Amazon and Microsoft, perhaps starting in the engineering team. They are also in-demand in cybersecurity, and development operations companies. Technical PMs are a go-to person when the products are only as good as their development.
For Analyst PMs, some of the organizations hiring them are Palantir, Plaid, Looker and other machine learning-heavy companies. The strength of PMs in data management applies to small start-ups operating on lean teams. They also usually start as data scientists first before moving up to APM.
Opportunities for Marketing PMs are often at Hubspot, Intercom, Allbirds and Toast, platforms which connect customers to businesses and entrepreneurs. Their PR and marketing skills are valued where customer needs are key to business.
The rare Task-oriented PMs are most likely working with pioneers and breakthrough companies such as Facebook, Uber, Bird and Lime. In the early years of these companies, they had to strike while the iron is hot and that means developing even as they are on the launching phase.
Meanwhile, Visionary PMs are usually not hired, they build companies and conceptualize in the seed stage of start-ups and adapt PM roles as the company matures. Sometimes, Visionary PMs may find opportunities from established companies seeking to renew their image or expand to other niches.
Sample Product Manager Interview Questions
The role of the product manager could make or break a product launch. With this in mind, recruiters could be very technical, specific or value-driven during the interview. Some questions an HR would ask for project managerial positions are the following:
When you have two or more high priority tasks, how would you prioritize resources?
How do you know when and what to improve in a product?
What do you perceive as the major challenges of a company like ours in the next one to two years?
What makes product X successful or flop? How can it improve?
Tell me about an essential product you use and how would you improve it?
Tell me a product or products which you think is a breakthrough but did not appeal to mass consumers? How will you reintroduce it again in the market?
What functionality or feature would you improve in this product and how do you propose to carry this out?
Knowing product X, how would you promote this to market Y?
What market demographics does product X appeal to? How and where can we expand our market?
Which among our products do you think is the best and how would you redesign it?
When you reject an idea or a project, what are your considerations?
How do you envision the company years from now? What are your bases?
Here is a list of over 80+ more interview questions.
We hope this article comprehensively answered your questions of "what do product managers do?" In this article you should have learned about role and responsibilities of a product manager, specific product manager skills, the different types of PMs, and how to get hired in your first product management role. Follow our blog for more product knowledge like this.
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