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The Roles and Responsibilities of a Product Manager

Product Management is the art of successfully driving each step of a product’s lifecycle — from development to positioning, pricing and launch. To build the best product possible, Product Managers must become proponents of solving user’s needs through quality designed, high-performing products.

Product management lies at the intersection between the business and technology functions of a company and its target audience.

What is the role of a Product Manager?

To make quality designed, high-performing products a reality, a Product Manager’s role is to drive the vision, strategy, experience, and execution of a digital product. With a primary goal to deliver business value, Product Managers are required to create products that are valuable, feasible, and usable.

According to Adam Nash from LinkedIn, a Product Manager should always ask two questions, “What game are we playing?” and “How do we keep score?”

Product Managers investigate what users really need and then work within a team to figure out how best to meet that need within cost and time constraints.

The job of a Product Manager is to wear many hats, and some of their daily roles and responsibilities include:

  • Prioritisation
  • Stakeholder management
  • Interviewing customers
  • Writing product documents
  • Project management
  • Storytelling
  • Design prototyping
  • Removing roadblocks for your team
  • Celebrating with your team
  • Ability to discern data-rich insights
  • Do whatever it takes to ship the product

Career pathways of a Product Manager

Getting started as a Product Manager requires both the technical skills and customer insights to understand how to create exceptional products that not only delight but also connect and best serve the end user’s needs.

The possibilities in the world of product management are endless, with many Product Managers coming with previous backgrounds in User Experience (UX) Design, marketing, business analysis, project management, Information Technology, customer support, and entrepreneurship.

While there is no linear progression in becoming a Product Manager, according to McKinsey, there are three types of Product Manager personas; technologists, generalists, and business-oriented.

As the three archetypes of Product Managers emerge, there is one focus common across types of Product Managers: the customer.  

The three different personas of a Product Manager can transition into a number of roles including Product Managers, Product Owners, Chief Product Owners and beyond.

Product Managers: From less experienced all the way to seasoned Product Managers, empathy, storytelling, and user experience skills are required for a successful Product Manager. Some degree of hands-on product experience is ideal, as a Product Manager will be required to communicate basic product concepts and walk in with a hit-the-ground-running attitude.

Managing a team is also a highly critical part of the role, with a Product Manager expected to lead, provide guidance and coordinate the processes, relationships, and strategy of a product’s roadmap. At the heart of their work, a Product Manager needs to keep the user’s needs at the core of the problem their solving in order to create products that not only delight but address their pain points.

Product Owners: While Product Managers are advocates for the customer, Product Owners articulate detailed user stories, participate in detailed product developments, and address questions as the customer representative.

Product Owners work within the product development process which includes prioritising the backlog and estimating development effort. Put simply, a Product Owner is a role you play on a Scrum team whereas a Product Manager is the job itself.

VP of Product / Chief Product Owners (CPOs): At this stage of the Product Manager career path, VP or CPOs are less hands-on but work to determine the strategy and how a product line fits into an organisation. Roles and responsibilities of VPs or CPOs include budgeting, ensuring the product strategy aligns with company objectives, engaging with external communications, and solving internal team conflicts.

Product Manager vs Product Marketing Manager

In a number of markets, the role of Product Manager has also been split into two: a Product Manager and a Product Marketing Manager.

According to tech giant Atlassian, Product Marketing Managers improve a product team’s ability to reach customers and learn from product-tailored marketing campaigns and insights. Product Marketing Managers are responsible for developing the positioning, messaging, and unique value a product has with its target audience.

Where a Product Manager articulates the details around the ‘why’, the ‘what’, and the ‘when’ of a product’s features, whereas it is the Product Marketing Manager’s job to communicate these benefits into the marketplace.

Remuneration, job vacancies, and the future of product management

Product Managers are highly sought after position with research company Gooroo determining that the average Australian salary for a Product Manager was AUD $115,000 in 2018, with over 2,000 Product Manager roles available at any given time on SEEK.com.  

As there is no clear-cut route into Product Management, many eager applicants focus instead on the core competencies of the job.

The field of Product Management requires a multidisciplinary skillset that involves empathy for the customer and the ability to communicate to both internal teams and external stakeholders. A Product Manager must get buy-in from all functions of marketing, design, and development before testing and scaling a high performing, quality product.

Over the next few years, the role of a Product Manager will continue to evolve and focus more heavily on data-driven insights. As technology advances, the functions within Product Management will begin to automate, as niche products emerge from decreased production costs.

Furthermore, product management will continually increase the collaboration between teams, up to the point where it no longer serves a standalone role. Product Management will eventually infiltrate every part of an organisation’s operations.

As markets expand, the role of Product Managers will not only pertain to digital products but also to the testing of physical products. Focusing on the customer will no longer serve as a competitive advantage, with companies required to look at other ways to innovate or risk the chance of being disrupted.

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Learn how to develop your Product Management toolkit and be equipped with the mindset and skills to drive successful products with our part-time Product Management course.

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5 easy ways to move up in Product Management

When it comes to a career in Product Management, the opportunities are limitless.

A Product Management team is often regarded as the talent pool from which a company’s future executives are drawn, and rightly so, as few roles force an understanding of the full business as much as a Product Manager.

So what exactly is a Product Manager?

Product Managers manage every moment of the product’s lifecycle, taking the idea from the executive level and guiding it through conception and development. Boasting impressive market and customer knowledge, PM professionals are perhaps some of the best seated in the house to assume leadership roles. Add to this the ongoing collaborative work and exposure to the worlds of sales, finance and marketing, PM’s are well equipped with the multi-disciplinary skills that are required for a promotion.

While the career options available to a product manager are constantly evolving and expanding, a Product Manager typically progresses in four stages:

  • Senior Product Manager: managing and grooming one or more junior PM.
  • Head of Product: Manage a portfolio of products and PM/Senior PM’s.
  • VP of Product: Senior responsible for the rest of the executive team, representing product/market/company success rather than a measure of one specific function.
  • CEO: Head responsible in charge of leading cross-functional teams from a product’s conception through to its launch. Usually experienced and expert in all aspects of the business, from strategy to ideation and market analysis.

Here are 5 easy steps to help you advance in the industry: 

1. Master your trade

Good product managers know their market, the product, the product line and their competition extremely well. They work in confidence and with a strong skill set behind them, based on well founded knowledge and experience. A good Product Manager measures themselves in terms of the success of the product rather than counting losses. Often considered “a jack of all trades”, a good PM has a unique value, based on an all-round expertise. When it comes to Product Management, no knowledge is invaluable, so take the opportunity to learn new skills with elation.

2. Be the boss of the product

Live and breathe your product. Use it yourself, test it out on other people, ask for feedback. Be passionate in a way that is both convincing and inspiring. Better yet, be genuine. Anticipate the flaws and build solutions. Practice the company pitch until you know it better than anyone. Recruit talent when needed, and give credit accordingly.

3. Skip the excuses

A good Product Manager takes initiative. A bad manager has a lot of excuses. Volunteer your help for the hard stuff, even if it isn’t directly transcribed in your job description. Manage the product team and give formal direction.

4. Work on leadership

A key factor in moving up the Product Manager career ladder is how you manage people. Are you an experienced people person? Do you have a track record of leadership and can you coach people to work better than they already do? The career progression of a product manager naturally points to leadership roles. Managing large portfolios comes with greater responsibility, so the ability mentor, communicate and hire executive talent effectively is crucial.

5. Ask for feedback

Perhaps an obvious one, but important nonetheless. Seek out your peers, VP’s, customers and other stakeholders and ask them where you can improve. Address your weaknesses and build on your strengths. Share your ambitions and then ask for advice on how to achieve them.

Where to start?

Larger companies with one or more large product portfolios usually offer the most progression. However, with the start-up industry booming, many junior Product Managers choose to head in the direction of a start-up they are passionate about. Passion speaks wonders, and picking a product you adore can make all the difference. If you’re just breaking into the industry, or developing an existing skill-set, formal training in product management  best practices can really help.

The Takeaway

A career in Product Management can see you doing anything from liaising with customers to determining creative strategy. Be explicit in your actions, project positivity and focus on what’s important and you’ll be well on your way to a promotion.

Learn how to understand what it takes to drive the product vision from ideation to reality with our range of Product Management courses here.

By: Pia Marsh

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