The product manager 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?
- Types of product managers
- What does a product manager do?
- Product manager role skills
- How to become a better product manager
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:
- Staying aware of changing customer needs and expectations
- Collaborating with multiple stakeholders, such as engineering and development
- Maintaining the vision and goals of a product
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.
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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:
- Interpreting customer or user needs
- Knowing how the product solves each of these needs
- Morphing their strategy to fit user needs
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.
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:
- Feasible to create
- True to the product’s original vision
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:
- Setting goals
- Determining release dates
- Laying out a product launch plan
- Developing roadmaps for creating or improving the product
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:
- Product development progress and timelines
- Customer feature usage
- The efficacy of each team and contributing stakeholders
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.
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:
- Effective communication. A product manager brings people and ideas together. But if product managers fail to communicate effectively, they risk miscommunicating their strategic vision, which can have negative consequences for the organization’s goals. They must be comfortable speaking in front of a crowd and composing concise, clear emails to keep their team on the same page.
- Familiarity with the product landscape. What’s popular with customers right now? Which solutions are already on the market? Product managers need to be aware of the industry as a whole. Experienced product managers regularly read industry news sites and attend conferences to see which products are going to market.
- Prioritization of ideas. Your team can’t act on all of its good ideas at once. A product manager cherry-picks the best, most effective ideas. Not only do they need to choose ideas that will get results, but they also have to filter through the ideas that could be less successful, which requires forethought.
- Ability to empower teams to act independently. Product managers work with a variety of different teams. They handle a little bit of everything, but they can’t do everything alone. They should understand how to encourage employees to take the initiative on projects so everyone can succeed.
- Skills in navigating stakeholder conflicts. Conflict is inevitable in an organization. Product managers should know how to find a compromise between stakeholders while keeping the conversation calm, respectful, and productive.
- Capacity to act as a leader without direct authority. Product managers need to understand the art of delegation and motivation, as well as how to hold teams accountable for their assigned tasks.
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.