What is a Product Manager?


What is a Product ManagerAs a product manager in San Francisco, I can’t count the number of times I’ve been at a bar, been asked what I do, and then hear the follow-up question “Wait… you do what? What’s a product manager?” When I first started answering that question, I would stutter, throw out some nonsense jargon like “cross-functional teams,” and “customer advocate” and receive a blank stare from whomever I was talking to. Since then, I’ve spent a lot more time learning even more about all the facets of being a product manager.

The role of a product manager really differs from every company and lifecycle of a product but in general:

Here’s another great picture I’ve frequently seen that fairly accurately describes the role of a product manager:


I love this picture because good product managers are generally well-versed in one or two of these circles and slowly develop skills in the remaining circle, but some of the best product managers I’ve worked with are proficient in all three:

  • UX: It’s absolutely crucial that product managers understand the user experience by talking to customers and getting feedback so that they can represent the users when making feature/design decisions about the product. Product managers need to develop a mastery of empathy and understand who the target users are, what their problems / challenges are, and how the product the team is going to build will solve these problems and provide value.
  • Technology: Product managers do not necessarily need to know how to code but they should have a passion for technology and want to understand the back-end workings of effort required to make correct decisions. Understanding the technology behind your product will help you gain rapport with your engineering team as well as let you better prioritize roadmap features since you can actually properly estimate how long each feature might take to build.
  • Business: A large part of product management is still ultimately focused on maximizing business goals. At the end of the day, you are still responsible for measurable results and your product KPIs (key performance indicators – basically performance measurements). To achieve market share and hit business goals, a good product manager should understand the importance of all business decisions whether it be sales, marketing, pricing, etc…


So this Venn diagram is cool and all, but how does a product manager actually apply the aspects above on the job?

As mentioned before, product managers need to guide the team in a certain direction, and doing so requires first distilling through a world of uncertainty by evaluating: quantitative data from historical metrics, qualitative data from user research / customer feedback, market trends, competitive analysis, and anything else relevant that they can get their hands on.

From this distillation of information, it’s a product manager’s responsibility to help prioritize products or features that their team should be focusing on as well as convincing their team and upper management to get on board with the vision that they’ve laid out based on their analysis and prioritization. A product manager must also work with the rest of the team to lay out an actionable plan to execute these proposed ideas.

Once it comes time for the team to start building the product, a product manager must ensure that details are taken care of, edge cases are accounted for, and make sure the product is tested and ready to ship on time. And once the product is finally shipped, the job isn’t done. A product manager needs to determine success of the product through an understanding of how customers interact with the product. This feedback gives a product manager even more context and data to adjust future iterations of the product as well as help better plan ongoing roadmap plans and product ideas.

If you are new to product management, we recommend checking out our One Week PM course, a crash course in learning the fundamentals of product management, launching your own product, and landing your first product role!


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