How to Be a Better Product Manager
The creation of great tech products requires input from different departments and professionals: engineers, designers, marketing, and sales, to name a few. Product managers have the unique responsibility of coordinating these professionals and generally determining the direction of the project. Little wonder they're referred to as the "CEO of the product".
Perhaps what makes the role more intriguing is that, unlike conventional CEOs, PMs hardly ever have direct control over the professionals that make up their team. Thus, they have to rely on people skills to ensure everyone works together to create a great product.
Currently, product managers are among the most sought-after and highest-paid professionals on any tech team. Still, it's hard to find a standard definition for product management, and many people do not know what the role entails or what it takes to be one. In this article, we demystify product management and share useful tips on becoming a better product manager.
What is a product manager?
A product manager connects design knowledge, business strategy, and customers' desires to create a useful and valuable product. They're the intersection between the product development team, marketing department, and end-users.
PMs are responsible for gathering customer requirements, defining the product vision, and working closely with all the departments involved in product development to ensure that customer satisfaction and revenue goals are met.
Product Manager responsibilities
The role of a product manager can vary widely from organization to organization. In fact, it's not uncommon to find two product managers in the same organization having entirely different responsibilities. Ultimately, a product manager's specific responsibilities will depend on the type of organization and product they're handling. However, most product manager job descriptions typically entail:
Talking to customers
Product managers have to understand users' needs and represent them throughout the product development cycle. Often, the only way they can do this effectively is by actively interacting with potential end-users and noting their pain points. Post-development, the product manager still interacts with customers by showing them demos and providing support where necessary. And even after release, they gather feedback and decide areas that need improvement.
Product backlog management
The product backlog in Scrum is a features list that contains all the functionalities the team plans to build into the product. While creating the product backlog is chiefly the product owner's domain, the product manager, as the team's overall leader, can help with prioritization. Depending on the size of the company, there isn’t a product owner, so this responsibility falls on the PM.
As mentioned earlier, the product manager defines the overall product vision. Thus, they're responsible for strategic planning and execution throughout the lifecycle of the product. As a product manager, you should coordinate and plan team activities, set timelines for project completion, and define the metrics for success.
The best product managers consistently make data-driven decisions. You have to work with analysts to identify customer needs and also define areas that require prioritization. During product development, you'll need to analyze data to measure progress, and even post-development, data analysis is necessary for measuring the success of the project.
Product Manager vs. Product Owner
Both the product owner and product manager have a shared vision of creating products that are valuable to the customer and the company. Because of this shared vision, it could be challenging to distinguish between their roles. However, despite the areas of overlap, there are important differences between these two professionals' responsibilities.
For one thing, the product manager is always on the lookout for the next great product. They discover users' needs, prioritize them, and create a product roadmap that'll meet these needs. While they're at it, the product owner is busy trying to figure out how to maximize the product value by creating a product backlog. You can think of them as professionals who communicate the user's desires to the product development team.
Furthermore, the product manager defines the product's overall vision and works closely with internal and external stakeholders to realize this vision. On the other hand, the product owner focuses more on helping the team to execute the shared vision. Thus, most of their work is directed towards internal stakeholders.
Another difference worth noting is that product managers are hardly ever involved in the day-to-day activities of developing the product. More often than not, they work at the conceptual level rather than providing hands-on guidance or support to the team - unless you’re working at a startup.
Product managers have to wear many hats when managing a startup’s product development process. This means they have to fill the role of product owner, so they’ll be responsible for the day-to-day work of developing and overseeing the product.
On their part, product owners monitor the team's day-to-day progress and ensure everyone's still on board with the shared vision.
How to be the best product manager
All great PMs appear to have a lot in common: passion, pragmatism, emotional intelligence, empathy, strategic thinking, laser focus, among others. However, one of the most exciting things about a product manager's role is that there's an infinite number of ways to approach the job. Whatever your style, you'll find the following tips useful if you're aspiring to have a great product management career:
Make product decisions based on data
As the popular maxim goes- stats don't lie. If you can be ruthless enough to make product decisions based on hard data rather than feelings, you're already halfway into becoming a great product manager.
Making data your friend starts right from determining what new product to work on and extends to tracking progress and measuring the project's success. Whenever you need to make any decision at any step of the way, ask yourself if the decision is supported by factual evidence or you're just following your whims.
Meet with users/customers regularly
Ultimately, your success as a product manager will be judged by your product's value to the customers and the company. And since it's almost impossible to achieve the latter without the former, the user experience should be your top priority.
You can start meeting with a select few among your end users right after defining the product roadmap. After development, organize product demos before launch and implement ways to receive customer feedback after launching the product. When your product strategy prioritizes users, you're much more likely to build a truly great product.
Be open to learning
Even if you don’t have a strong technical background, you're still expected to have a strong background in product development, from software development to engineering to business development to marketing and sales. The only way you can successfully navigate the journey is by displaying a great deal of flexibility and willingness to learn.
Use a customer data platform (CDP)
As mentioned earlier, most of your decision-making should be based on data if you want to become a good product manager. CDPs allow you to leverage all your customer data to make better marketing decisions. These platforms help to unify customer data into profiles the product team can easily work with. As a product manager, these tools are indispensable because they provide a comprehensive view of your customers based on data.
Work with engineering teams to create a product tech stack
A product stack comprises all the tools or resources the product manager needs to get the product to the marketplace. These tools can range from analytical software for tracking user tactivity to programming languages to customer data platforms to centralize data.
Creating a product stack helps you on your quest to create the right products for your target market. You'll have all the tools you need to make data-driven decisions, and your team will work smarter since they have all the necessary resources at their disposal. Remember, you do not have to create a product stack on your own. Accept inputs from all the departments in your team to make your stack truly comprehensive and ensure no one feels left out.
FAQs about product managers
Here are answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about product managers:
How do you become a product manager?
Unlike, say, software engineering or visual design, product management is not yet taught as a course in most colleges. In fact, people only started aspiring to become product managers recently. Most senior product managers around today started their careers in other fields and transitioned into product roles along the line.
If you're thinking about getting into product management, you should be prepared to do most of your learning on the job. Still, you can register for specialized product management training from tech trade schools such as Product School or General Assembly. Alternatively, you can take product management courses as part of an MBA program.
After graduation, look for a junior product management role, and you'll acquire the rest of the skills you need while working. You may also benefit greatly from having a mentor in the field and connecting with them.
Do product managers need to code?
The simple answer is no. The typical product manager job description does not entail coding, and you can be fantastic in your role without knowing how to write a line of code. However, real-life scenarios are hardly ever that simple.
Product managers who cannot code may struggle in some companies. Such companies may even list coding capabilities as one of the prerequisites for the job. However, there are other companies where you can thrive without any coding knowledge. Ultimately, the key lies in finding the right fit for your skills. But having a basic knowledge of coding has never hurt any product manager.
Even if you aren't the best coder in the room, not being the only non-coder in the room can go a long way in bridging the communication gap in your team. If you don’t know how to code and you want to become a PM, now may not be the best time to learn to code. Instead, focus on general management, creating user stories, and enhancing your soft skills.
Are product managers in demand?
Product management is one of the hottest in-demand fields in the technology space. According to a report by Product Management Insider, pm roles in the United States have grown by an astonishing 32% from August 2017 to June 2019. This growth surpasses the increase in demand for other tech roles by at least 5%.
Naturally, the high demand comes with a fat paycheck. The national average salary of product managers stands at about $100,000, with the top earners going home with at least $135,000 annually.
There's so much to be said about great product managers; they're the visionary team leaders that always see the bigger picture and possess enough charm to get everyone to key into their vision. However, beyond their core competencies and emotional intelligence, a crucial factor that people overlook when telling the stories of great product managers is company fit.
Even if you possess all the skills needed to excel as a PM, finding the right company remains a key part of the puzzle. Because different companies build different products and have different product management cultures, you have to critically evaluate the product space you'll be working around before jumping on the job. If you can combine core competencies with emotional intelligence and the right company fit, the skies are your stepping stone as a product manager.