Sometimes, I get asked what a product manager is and what do they do?
Marty Cagan, a famous digital product manager ever described the job of the product manager as “to discover a product that is valuable, usable and feasible”.
Similarly, product management is often defined at the intersection between business, technology, and user experience. A good product manager must be experienced in at least one, passionate about all three, and conversant with practitioners in all.
At the intersection between business, technology, and user experience
Product Management is above all else a business function, focused on maximizing the business value generated from a product.
Product Managers should be obsessed with optimizing a product to achieve the business goals while maximizing return on investment.
It does mean that you are a suit, but you don’t have to wear one.
There’s no point defining what to build if you don’t know how it will get built. This doesn’t mean a Product Manager needs to be able to sit down and code. He will be surrounded by developers, software engineers for that purpose.
However, understanding the technology stack and most importantly, understanding the level of effort involved, are crucial to making the right decisions.
This is even more important in an “Agile software development” context, where Product Managers spend more time day to day with the development team than with anyone else inside the business.
Last but not least the Product Manager is the voice of the user inside the business and must be passionate about the user experience. Again this doesn’t mean being a pixel pusher but you do need to be out there testing the product, talking to users and getting that feedback first hand – especially in a start-up.
Manager? To manage what, or who exactly?
You need this breadth of skills because the role itself is incredibly broad and varied and PMs will be using them every day.
It starts with setting a vision for the product, which requires you to research, research and research some more your market, your customer and the problem they have that you’re trying to solve.
PMs have to assimilate huge amounts of information : feedback from clients, quantitative data from your web analytics, research reports, market trends and statistics PMs need to know everything about the market and the customer, and then mix all that information with a healthy dose of creativity to define a vision for the product.
Once we have a vision, we have to spread the word in the business. Get dogmatic, evangelical even, about the utopia that is our product. And if a PM can’t get passionate about it, then she is in the wrong job or didn’t come up with a very good vision.
PM’s success and that of the product relies on every team member, from the sales reps to the developers. Every one of them must understand that vision and be at least a little bit passionate about it as well.
And then PMs switch gears again and start building an actionable plan to reach that vision. A roadmap of incremental improvements and iterative development that takes them step by faltering step closer to that final vision. This is when all that hard work preaching the good word pays off and your team throws themselves into coming up with better designs, better code and better solutions to the customer’s problem.
Now PMs get very detail-oriented, as we work day in, day out with the development team as a product owner, defining and iterating the product as we go, solving problems as they pop up and closely managing scope so we can get the product out on time.
The product is finally out there and suddenly we’re spending our days poring over data again looking at how customers use the product, going out and talking to them about the product and generally eating, sleeping and breathing the product. Did we solve the right problem? Do our users get the product? and one very important question: Will they pay for our product?
And then we do it all over again. And these days it’s not a waterfall process. You’re not doing this step by step, you’re doing this for a dozen products or features at any one time, switching from strategy to tactics in the blink of an eye, iterating on each one of them incrementally.
Because it is. Being a product manager is a tough job but it’s just about the most fun you can have with your clothes on… It’s certainly one of the most fun you’re going to get paid to do.
You get to define the very essence of a product, design solutions to your customer’s problems, work with everyone in the business and play a very large part in your business’s and customer’s success.
We’re the unsung heroes of the tech world or at least we’d like to think so…