What should a product manager do?

Recently I was asked “What should a product manager do? on Quora and the answers I received were really interesting.

Read on to see what people thought (including my opinion):

As a Product Manager, you’re in the intersection between software engineering, UX design, and digital marketing. You don’t need to be the best at everything, but you need to know enough to feel confident with connecting with those groups. A product manager is a person in between software engineers, UX designers, and digital marketers in order to build digital products like websites or mobile apps.

There are three main skills that PM’s need:

Industry domain. You need to know a lot about a specific product or a specific industry even if you haven’t worked in product management in that industry.

Technical background. You don’t have to know how to code (if you do that’s a huge bonus). You have to be comfortable enough talking with your software engineers on every single level.

Communication. As a PM you need to know how to communicate your ideas to engineers, designers, stakeholders and a bunch of other people. You are going to be communicating to others or influencing others so they can execute.

Carlos Gonzalez de Villaumbrosia

A product manager should understand their product/service very well and constantly test and test it over and over again. However, it’s just a prerequisite, not the most vital one.

Most people focus only on the product itself and forget that they need to build a business system. The reality is that there are unlimited ideas, millions of entrepreneurs with products or services to offer but only few can succeed in creating an excellent system which secures what they have in hands.

A business system requires time and people’s effort. It might take 3 or 5 years or even more than a decade. The good news is that we don’t need to see the whole staircase, we just need to take our first steps. Baby or small steps will consolidate the foundation for the system. Let’s start by asking a question “Can you systemize your product or service?”

I recommend 7P principle:

  1. Problem: What is the problem with your product or service? Can you give a solution to it?
  2. Priority: We might encounter a lot of problems and sometimes we really get overwhelmed if we don’t know how to prioritize things.
  3. Plan: You should really stick to your plan and stay focused to get it done.
  4. Process: This is very IMPORTANT. A detailed process reduces arising errors and also increases your performance professionally.
  5. People: This is the most DIFFICULT thing, the best manager is not the smartest, the best manager is the one who can work with different people and make them become a core team with high spirit and responsibility.
  6. Policy: It acts like the law. The law here is a system of rules that are created and enforced through the leader to regulate member’s behavior. People contribute good work should deserve a good treat, and those who have poor performance should go with some criticism or even penalties.
  7. Product: Review constantly what is created. A good product should be acknowledged by how customers welcome it and how much they are willing to pay. In short, your product should be acknowledged through money.

There is still a lot more to learn. But as a manager/ a leader, we should take action and commit ourself to stick on the way to successfully establish a business system.

An Nguyen

Fulfill the strategic directives of upper management.

Typically this will mean one of

  • increasing market penetration
  • increasing revenue
  • increasing profit
  • increasing customer satisfaction

You will note that all of these will mean balancing the needs of

  • Management (who want everything yesterday and have no money to spend)
  • Development (who say they never have enough time and they have too much on their plate already)
  • Customers (who, no matter what you do, will still have 10 things on their Top 10 Lists)
  • Marketing (who believe that they know every answer to every question, but in truth are your allies).

Your mantra should be this: “This product will be based on three factors: Price, Delivery Date, and Quality. Pick any two.”

Scott Welch

For the most part, a well-run engineering team by a development lead or an engineering manager should be capable of delivering products and be able to tell the product manager what can be reasonably delivered. A good relationship gets you great answers and a more open transparent environment lets people undo a lot of the usual “padding” given to answers to avoid egg on face issues (like accidentally over-committing and then having to retract).

Having this established as your baseline, the product manager then is to figure out what the engineering team is supposed to deliver. How this is accomplished is up to the product manager as every industry has different tools used to figure out what needs to happen.

Do you need to satisfy internal customers? Then, you can go up and figure out exactly what they need.

Do you need to satisfy external customers? Then, you may conduct user groups, demos, presentations, product deep dives, surveys, market data or customer feedback.

How formal do you need to be in order to ensure you have the space necessary to deliver a product? Some external customers or internal teams can demand a lot of paperwork and traceability for political reasons, product managers should make sure there is a clean well proven (many models pre-exist) documentation of requests and functional requirements.

Summarizing, a product manager:

  • Researches possible product features or whole products based on customer/market needs
  • Works with an engineering team to develop a plan to bring that feature into this world (agreeing on expectations and process but to be fluid and respect each person to do their part)
  • Ensure that the product under their purview is on track at all times to handle current needs and to predict future needs

Also as an aside, a product manager DOES NOT:

  • Meticulously calculate burn rates or micro-manage engineering resources; respect people to do their task
  • Project manage; for the most part, many areas are self-running

Product managers provide the answer to the question of “what to build” for an engineering team.

Alex Wong

I get this question all the time from my students. I also did some research based on my management experience and training in interpersonal and organizational behavior. Much of what many say a product manager should do is based upon how it was done at some other organization or how it has always been done. As a result, I have written a modern and effective job description for a product manager. You can read more about it and get it here:

What Should a Product Manager Do?

David Fradin

A Comprehensive Guide to Hiring Product Managers 

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