The product manager role, responsibilities, and skills

A product manager has a distinct role, responsibilities, and skills.

You’ve no doubt worked with project managers before, but you might not be familiar with a product manager. While they sound similar, these are two different roles that executives and business owners should know about.

The product manager is a quickly growing, key role for many technology-based companies. Product managers have a diverse range of responsibilities that promote product development, cross-team understanding of product progress and functionality, and the analysis of customer needs.

Product managers can keep your business running more smoothly. Read on to learn about the product manager’s role and responsibilities, along with the skills used by successful product managers.

In this article, we’ll cover:

What is a product manager?

A product manager is a leadership role that’s responsible for developing and managing products. The product manager takes business strategies and matches them with customer needs to create products that address a need in the market. This includes creating a long-term vision for the product, its functionalities, and future features.

Successful product managers are also in charge of:

If you’ve never heard of a product manager before, there’s a good reason. Historically, this wasn’t a popular role. Product management itself has been around since the 1930s, but the product manager role didn’t become as popular until the 2010s.

In the era of cross-functional teams and technology, businesses found a need for a role that straddled both strategic and tactical business areas. And product manager is an increasingly coveted job title for Harvard Business School graduates and other MBAs. So it’s no surprise that many tech companies are eager to add these people to their leadership teams.

Since it’s such a fluid, cross-functional role, there are several types of product managers.

Product managers are primarily responsible for casting a vision for a company’s products, but they also handle reporting, cross-team communication, customer expectations, and product features.

Types of product managers

Every organization is free to create its own version of the product manager position. The larger a business, the more of these roles it will likely need. Product managers differ in terms of platforms, ideal customer profiles, product lifecycle, distribution model, and other factors.

While every business is different, these are the five most popular types of product managers:

  1. Product manager. The product manager owns the entire product lifecycle from start to finish. They’re more concerned with product concepts and will then pass the project to the product owner to execute the project. Product managers work with both internal and external stakeholders, so this role has to collaborate with a range of different people. They’re also responsible for the product vision, including success metrics, return on investment, and even marketing.
  2. Product owner. The product owner specializes in developing and executing the product. This is an internal-facing role that collaborates with developers, designers, and the product manager. The product owner will also look at the product backlog to determine what the team should build next.
  3. Growth product manager. The growth product manager works with leadership, sales, marketing, and accounting to improve product key performance indicators (KPIs). They’re mostly focused on revenue, lifetime value, and customer retention.
  4. Technical product manager. The technical product manager focuses on product specifications and functionality. This is a technical role that works closely with the engineering and development teams.
  5. Platform product manager. The platform product manager looks at the company’s software platform as a whole. They’re largely responsible for optimizing the product’s platform to improve the user experience.

What does a product manager do?

As there are different types of product managers, they perform a range of different tasks. On a high level, they’re responsible for product strategy, product releases, brainstorming new product ideas, prioritizing certain features, and analyzing product progress.

Let’s look at the six practical tasks of product management.

1. Cast the vision for the product

Products can’t succeed without a vision. Managers lay out the overall vision for the product’s development, which includes aligning other stakeholders around the vision.

This means product managers have to align every product (and feature) with a business initiative to explain why the team is building what it’s building. That also requires prioritizing certain products and features over others to make the most of the organization’s time and resources.

2. Understand the needs of users and customers

Since product managers answer to both internal and external stakeholders, they need to keep their finger on the pulse of customers’ needs. The product manager is in charge of:

This might require speaking to customers one-on-one or in focus groups. Product managers also look at support tickets, phone call transcripts, and customer reviews to stay in the know.

Product managers are in charge of interpreting customer's needs, and modifying the strategy to meet those needs.

3. Conduct competitive market analyses

Chances are, your business is competing against other tech companies for subscribers or customers. That isn’t unusual, which is why it’s so critical for the product manager to understand other solutions that are already on the market.

Not only will the product manager conduct regular competitive analyses, but they will also conduct strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats (SWOT) analyses to ensure the product addresses all potential obstacles and factors.

4. Evaluate and prioritize ideas and features

Your employees have lots of ideas. But which ideas are worth implementing immediately, and which should take a backseat?

The product manager decides which features are the most valuable for customers right now. But that isn’t the only item they need to consider. The product manager also looks into which ideas and features are:

5. Develop strategic roadmaps

Strategy is important, but product managers don’t simply dictate a general strategy — they’re also responsible for building roadmaps with specific goals and milestones to achieve their vision.

This means product managers are responsible for:

6. Report on the results

Product strategy doesn’t matter if it isn’t effective. Product managers are responsible for analyzing the results of their strategies and adjusting as needed.

While multiple stakeholders need these reports, the product manager can pull analytics detailing:

If the team finds that the product KPIs are subpar, it’s back to the drawing board for the product manager, who’s in charge of reworking the product vision.

7. Communicate across teams

Communication is important, but it can cause a lot of misunderstandings if handled poorly. Product managers have to be excellent communicators — in fact, this is one of the product manager’s most important responsibilities.

Product managers have to be able to communicate effectively across all levels of an organization. They need the ability to communicate with people who have widely different expertise and experience, as well as varying degrees of involvement in the product.

Since the product manager is a customer-facing role, they also need to be able to communicate with external stakeholders effectively.

The product manager takes business strategies and matches them with customer needs to create products that address a need in the market. This includes creating a long-term vision for the product, its functionalities, and future features.

Product manager role skills

Product managers certainly need technical skills, but because this is a fluid role that involves collaboration, soft skills are just as important.

Good product managers have a range of valuable soft skills, including:

Become a better product manager

Whether you’re already a product manager or learning more about this role, it’s critical to understand where the product manager fits into the product ideation and optimization process.

Product managers are primarily responsible for casting a vision for a company’s products, but they also handle reporting, cross-team communication, customer expectations, and product features. For a deeper dive into product management, learn about product information management.

Soft skills go a long way in preparing a product manager for leading cross-functional teams, but that’s just the beginning. Product managers also need the right tools in their corner to lead their teams to victory.

You can improve your product management with Adobe Workfront. Workfront connects work to strategy, offering better collaboration for product managers.

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