More and more MBAs are graduating with their sights set on one job title:
In San Francisco, for example, the demand for Product Management talent in the tech industry is higher than ever in the first half of the year.
And from what we can tell, product managers are increasing in demand across most other industries.
If you’re interested in becoming a product manager or need to hire one and want to better understand them, we’ll show you what a product manager is, what they do, and the strategies they use to get the job done.
Let’s dive in.
What Is Product Management?
Presenting a concise product management definition is difficult because it’s a multi-faceted occupation.
Here’s one from Wikipedia:
“Product management is an organizational lifecycle function within a company dealing with the planning, forecasting, and production, or marketing of a product or products at all stages of the product life cycle.”
The word “life cycle” is the key to understanding all the functions of a product manager – which we’ll dive more into later in this post.
But a high-level view of product management is it focuses on building the best possible product for your target customers. So even though the title is “product manager,” every person who assumes that role is primarily thinking about the customer and making sure every aspect of design and functionality is built with them in mind.
The result (ideally) is better-designed, higher-performing, customer-pleasing products that can be shipped quickly.
Intimately understanding customers to create tailored solutions for them is the future of business…and the present.
We’re putting a lot of emphasis on the customer experience, but that’s not the whole picture.
Martin Eriksson, who literally wrote the book on product leadership, says that product management is the “intersection between business, technology and user experience.” Here’s how he breaks it down:
- Business – the product you create needs to maximize its business value, i.e. a profitable return on investment.
- Technology – you need to know how the product will get built, including the technology involved and the effort required.
- User Experience (UX) – you need to be passionate about how your customers will interact with the product and making their experience exceptional. This requires talking to users and getting their feedback firsthand.
How Did Product Management Begin?
Product management is the story of deeper emphasis on customers and the need for specific people to manage specific brands.
But it’s also the story of increasing efficiency in production and manufacturing.
In 1931, a young marketer named Neil H. McElroy wrote a 300-page memo describing the need for “brand men” while working for Proctor & Gamble. McElroy was also an advisor at Stanford University, influencing two heavyweight visionaries: Bill Hewlett and David Packard.
Hewlett-Packard created their company in 1943 and for 50 years, they grew 20% Y/Y by implementing and refining the concept of a “brand man.”
Also in the ‘40s, an emerging car manufacturer in Japan, named Toyota, develops the just-in-time methodology. In the ‘50s, they adopt the Kanban method.
Toyota also becomes incredibly successful very quickly after WW2 ends – prompting American companies to model some of their processes.
By the ‘70s, US tech companies start developing lightweight processes for faster production in an attempt to break from manufacturing orthodoxy that was slow and cumbersome.
The work on streamlining processes that started in the ‘70s and ran through the ‘90s laid the groundwork for the dominant process in the new millennium:
The Agile Manifesto revolutionized the way software is developed to this day. But it’s also impacted physical product development.
The growth of agile and quick iteration – pumping out products you know will resonate with your target customers – gave rise to the demand for modern-day product managers.
What Is a Product Manager?
A product manager is the person who manages the total development, marketing, and sales of a product or family of products.
They should be very experienced in at least one of the big 3 areas: business, technology, or UX. They should be passionate about all three. And they must have the ability to converse with every department in these areas.
But it’s misleading to imply it’s just one person managing all these different aspects of product development.
More often than not, there is no single product manager, but a team of managers with distinct roles who work together under the shared banner of product management.
Here’s a list of roles either assumed by one person or many people making up the product management team.
Chief Product Officer
The Chief Product Officer (CPO) typically reports directly to the CEO and oversees all product activities inside the organization. Their role is to realize the vision and goals set by the executives of your business.
Senior Vice President of Product Management
The Senior Vice President of Product Management reports to one or more C-level executives and is usually in charge of a team of product managers. They’re responsible for communicating with other key leaders in the departments involved in product development, including engineering, sales, support, and marketing.
Vice President of Product Management
The Vice President of Product Management is responsible for large initiatives undertaken during product development. They’re responsible for aligning cross-functional teams toward common objectives that will create the most value for your business.
Director of Product Management
The Director of Product Management reports to the VP on their team or the next highest-ranking leader. Their role is articulating a clear vision for the product being developed, speaking with customers, and defining features that will satisfy customers the most.
Group Product Manager
The Group Product Manager (GPM) is the leader responsible for a specific group of products, rather than a single product. They may even be tasked with managing other product managers.
On any given day, GPMs will conduct research, brainstorm strategies, and implement ideas or execute on strategies handed down from an executive member of the team.
The Product Manager is responsible for laying out a roadmap for product development and defining the features that must go into it. Their responsibilities may include marketing strategy, profit and loss forecasts, and market analysis of your competition.
A product manager is both strategic and tactical – helping to bridge the gap between product development and all the other functional groups involved in the process.
What Does a Product Manager Do?
The project manager has a large core of tasks to accomplish in several areas. Here’s a rundown of the majority of their responsibilities:
- Conducting research – understanding what customers want requires you to conduct in-depth research on your market, your buyer’s persona, and your competitors.
- Developing strategy – after gathering the requisite information, product managers move on to shaping their knowledge into strategies and plans for building and promoting the product. This includes goals, milestones, high-level view and a granular view of the product development timeline.
- Communicating plans – with a product roadmap in hand, product managers will present their plan to executives, investors, and the rest of their team. You’re responsible for generating and maintaining passionate support for the product.
- Coordinating development – product managers will coordinate with the leaders of other departments involved – marketing, sales, manufacturing, et al – to fully execute the plan.
- Analyze data and feedback – After the product is built, tested, and launched, the product manager will ask for direct feedback from users to discover what’s working, what’s failing, what to add, what to remove, and what to change. You’ll use this data to inform future iterations of the product.
Product Management Strategies
Here are some product management strategies you can implement in your new position (or you can pass on to the product manager you hire):
Decide on a Clear Strategy
We’ve hammered this point home throughout this post and we need to say it again:
The product manager is responsible for clarifying the overarching strategy behind the product’s development, marketing, and improvement. Without this, teams won’t build anything of value and the product will flop on launch day.
Map Goals to Initiatives
Goals are signposts on your roadmap to stellar product management. In order to stay on the path, you need to map your goals to the specific initiatives you take when developing the product. This ensures you’re not taking actions that deviate from your plan or don’t deliver the results you expected.
Gather Ideas From Everyone on the Team
The only way to improve bad product ideas is with better ideas, but your own brilliance can wear thin. That’s why it’s crucial to solicit ideas from many places and people, including stakeholders, customers, salespeople, customer support, marketing, IT, and engineering.
After gathering all of these ideas, you can mix and match them and then prioritize the top ones from the rest.
How Poor Communication Can Wreck Good Product Management (And Why Communicating Visually Makes All the Difference)
The largest part of any product manager’s job, besides strategizing, is communicating with everyone involved in development.
That means internal politics, clearing up confusion, soothing egos, and keeping everyone on track toward the shared vision.
According to the 280 Group, 30% of product managers said that internal politics is their biggest challenge.
Conflicts will inevitably arise and it’s your job to quickly find resolutions and prevent future conflicts from cropping up.
The key is better communication.
But not through text…
Through video and images – the type of communication most people prefer.
Instead of tearing away team members from their desks and gathering them into a cramped office for a meeting, you can host a faster virtual meeting through a webcam.
Rather than writing out a list of complicated instructions, you can easily create an easy-to-follow GIF that shows what to do.
And you can replace rambling notes with annotated screenshots that are much easier to implement.
Zight (formerly CloudApp) makes this possible.
Plus, we’ve been ranked by G2 Crowd as one of the top sales enablement tools.
Discover why Zight (formerly CloudApp) is an essential product management tool today.