Product Manager Stories & Resources
Product management is an organizational function within a company or institution that deals with the lifecycle of a product, from the inception of the idea to the product’s launch and subsequent marketing efforts. The product management lifecycle is usually headed by a product manager, who is responsible for analyzing the market and overseeing the production of each product.
What is Product Management?
Have you ever booked an Airbnb, bought something from Amazon or even scheduled a meeting through your Google Calendar? If so, you’ve come across some of the most innovative products in the tech world today. These digital products have brought a sense of convenience to our lives that we didn’t have even a few years ago; and we can thank an efficient product management process for that. Without an efficient product development lifecycle, we wouldn’t have access to one-click purchasing, on-demand video streaming or millions of alternative living accommodations that we have today.
In short, product management is the practice of strategically managing the development, launch and continual support of a company’s products. A well-crafted strategy is essential to the development of quality products that customers love. It all comes down to the product manager who oversees the development of a company’s new products from start to finish.
Who are product managers and why are they so important in today’s tech world? For one, product managers (PMs for short) usually have their influence in just about every aspect of a company. They usually have an intimate knowledge of a business, its different department functions and its ultimate goals because they are tasked with developing revolutionary products that help drive all aspects of a business. Product managers are strategy-oriented and have a wide knowledge of sales, marketing, engineering and product practices that helps efficiently achieve the successful launch of each product.
Each PM’s day-to-day job is slightly different based on a company’s size, resources and goals. Though a product manager is tasked with leading the team that is responsible for bringing an idea to fruition, the way they go about it can be different. At smaller companies, a product manager could also be the lead engineer or could have to take on many other tasks usually delegated to a whole cross-functional team. At larger companies, a product manager oversees groups of engineers, data scientists, marketers and other product team members, who all work in unison to execute a company’s next big idea.
Though the exact day-to-day of a product manager varies, they still share some of the same tasks:
Product managers play a large role in the overall strategy of each product and therefore, the company as a whole. They’re tasked with staying up-to-date on industry and technological trends and using this knowledge to devise new digital products. Each new product has to align perfectly with a company’s goals and use the company’s resources as efficiently as possible. They’re charged with the important task of mapping out a new product’s vision, strategizing how to execute it and roadmapping the entire effort into the company’s overall plans.
The PM is essentially a project manager for the digital world. This means that product managers are constantly in communication with the engineers, marketers and other product team members to ensure that everyone is working towards completing their tasks in an efficient and timely manner. They have to constantly be in-the-know on the status of a product, from its inception to its launch and post-launch marketing efforts.
The phrase “the customer is always right” definitely applies to the job of a product manager. To launch a product successfully, product managers must have their finger on the pulse of their customers. A product will most likely be a flop if there isn’t demand for it from a company’s customers. The product manager and product marketing team have to be in constant contact with their customers to see what they need, what’s working (or not working) for them and how they can improve upon current offerings. Product managers ensure the success of new product launches by putting the customer first.
Product Manager Skills
Do you think you have what it takes to be a product manager? Product management is all about strategy, execution and customer understanding. Below are just a few of the important skills every PM needs to successfully turn brilliant ideas into revolutionary products.
Every PM needs to be detail-oriented. Strategizing every detail, no matter how minuscule, allows product managers to effectively strategize and roadmap: “How many people do I need to effectively complete this project?” “Who has the right skills that can help us effectively get this done?” “What are the roadblocks that I can foresee occurring during the development of this product?” “How does this fit into the overall goal of the company?” These are just a few of the hundreds of detail-oriented questions product managers must take into account when methodically developing new products for their organization.
Product managers must be some of the most flexible people in the organization. Most of the time, something will pop up out of nowhere and disrupt the development lifecycle. Perhaps the team discovered a major bug that has to halt production or a vital member of the team is out sick for a week. Maybe, over the course of the development lifecycle, the organization changed its priorities. No matter the disruption, PMs need to rely on their flexibility to step-in, step-up and get the job done as scheduled.
PMs need to be proficient in a variety of technical areas to effectively lead cross-functional teams. They need to have knowledge of various engineering practices and languages to enhance their effective communication with their engineering team and to understand the steps the team is taking every step of the way. PMs also need to rely on their marketing acumen to spread the word about their product and make sure the customers enjoy it. At more established firms, this job could fall into the realm of the product marketer. Finally, and most importantly, each PM obviously needs to have a deep understanding of how to build a product from scratch.
Communication and Collaboration
The ability to communicate and collaborate is absolutely vital when it comes to product management. Not only do PMs have to communicate with leadership about why they believe a product would help a business achieve its goals, but then they also have to be in constant contact with their team to ensure that the lifecycle is coming along according exactly to plan. Effective communicative abilities help to foster a sense of teamwork, trust and collaboration that spurs efficient product development and a worthwhile company culture.
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Product Manager Job Outlook
The term “product manager” is still relatively young in the tech sphere. Because a PM’s job description is sometimes generic or because organizations still compartmentalize a PM’s job title within other areas of the organization, there isn’t concrete data regarding a job outlook just yet. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics currently does not measure the title’s growth, but it does liken it to a marketing manager, which is projected to grow more than 8% over the next decade.
With that being said, interest in product managers is rising rapidly. The job title has more than doubled in organizational interest over the last five years (faster than management consultants or investment bankers). In fact, we’re seeing a trend of business school graduates foregoing traditional careers in banking and finance to take on product manager roles at tech companies. According to the Wall Street Journal, seven percent of Harvard MBAs are currently in, or searching for, product manager positions.
Product Manager Salary
The healthy PM salary range is a sign that product managers are truly becoming vital to the tech industry. The average salary for a product manager with 3-5 years of experience is $81,000 nationally. That figure gets bumped up quite a bit for senior product managers, who take in around $121,000 annually.
Highest-paying cities for product managers include:
How to Become A Product Manager
Is there a secret formula when it comes to becoming a product manager? According to most industry professionals, there isn’t one tried-and-true way to break into the industry. Some professionals landed in PM roles accidentally due to company reorganizations, development of general interest in the subject. Others some jumped in right out of college. Because of a product manager’s wide array of duties that range from technical engineering to more business-oriented tasks, some found it easy to transition into the role after getting an MBA, while others think that a degree in computer science is beneficial.
In short, there is no concrete path to become a product manager. Each PM has a diverse background that lends them to success in their own ways. They have unique backgrounds in business, software engineering, project management and even marketing that help them to bring innovative products to fruition. What about schooling? While most agree that a bachelor’s degree is necessary to be a PM, the industry is still debating whether an MBA or master’s degree needs to be a priority. Only recently have we seen colleges and graduate schools offer classes and programs dedicated towards the product management field. Since product management is a relatively new field, many PMs today rely on their past work experience to operate their current positions.
If there is one thing product managers can agree on, it’s that successful PMs all share a true passion for what they do. Having communication skills, technical knowledge, flexibility to shift plans at any second and an intricate attention to detail are all vital, but it’s truly passion for the industry and the product that sets great product managers apart. The aforementioned skills can be found and sharpened along your journey. A genuine interest in your company’s goals and products, along with a willingness to work on soft skills, will help to drive you to a long, successful career in product management.
Do you think you have what it takes to develop the next great digital product? If you have an extraordinary ability to communicate, a constant thirst for knowledge, a passion for your company’s products and a capacity to strategize, then a career in product management might be calling your name.