Defining the role of a product manager is easy; yet it can be quite tricky. The definition of a product manager differs in different companies, and so do their roles and responsibilities. Before we get into management, let us first understand product managers and the role they play, and how their involvement adds value to the organization.
What is a product?
In general terms, a product is merely an item or service you sell to serve your customers. However, when we define a product in software development, the definition takes on a different aspect.
Note: When we talk about the term ‘product’ in the software development context, we refer to both products and services.
“A product is a website or a software solution that reacts with the end-user. “
What is product management? If you ask ten different product managers this question, you are likely to get ten unique answers. Not surprisingly, all the answers will seem different but will run along the same lines. Why? Because all the organizations hire product managers for their specific needs and objectives. They are accordingly assigned different roles and responsibilities to meet business expectations.
So, what exactly do we mean by the term product management?
To be precise, product management is the practice of initiating the product development, marketing its launch, and constantly improving products. Product management is a matrix organizational structure that holds a product manager responsible for the success of a product.
Linda Gorchels in her book “The Product Manager’s Handbook” defines Product management as the entrepreneurial management of a piece of business as a virtual company.
Product managers are accountable for business growth without having authority over the entities that make it happen. That means the PM has no direct control over the development or sales team, though they participate in the discussion and implement improvement plans.
Who is a Product Manager?
Individuals unfamiliar with the discipline of product management often confuse the definition of a product manager with other players. Before we tell you about what a product manager is, let us first understand what a product manager is not.
- A product manager is not:
- A developer
- A software manager
- A project manager
- A marketer
A product manager is generally an intermediate manager who is accountable for a set of management and marketing tasks. They are in-charge of maintaining and branding existing products, also launching new products, for a given product line, brand, or service.
To do this, they are required to handle the product planning and execution throughout the lifecycle of the product. The product manager is the liaison among the functional departments within the company who holds multiple job title such as brand manager, industry manager, or customer segment manager.
What Types of Companies Use Product Managers?
From component suppliers to consumer-packaged goods producers to industrialists – all organizations hire product managers to look after their business needs. Even in non-profit organizations like in hospitals, you will find product managers.
Product management is generally most successful for companies where there are several products with similarities in manufacturing, but with a difference in marketing needs, particularly when the same product cuts across several customer groups.
What does a product manager do?
A product manager must have a blend of technological, managerial, and user experience skills. An understanding of product information, business strategies, and interpersonal knowledge is a must. Those who are new to this field typically spend most of their time gathering and organizing information on the product, its customers, and the competitors, and having basic product knowledge is of utmost importance. With experience, PMs start moving to business management, and may be required to work on finance, marketing, team building, and strategical planning.
They are required to:
- Identify opportunities: Identifying new opportunities is a primary role of a product manager. Improvement and continuous progress must be at the core of their focus, and they must stay updated with technological trends that will help them customize business solutions and address dynamic changes.
- Define & Develop: As top-level management professionals, product managers must define the long-term mission, besides taking care of short-term goals. They must set up a road map and implement ways to reach the targets. Based on the current market scenario, they must take up steps to update the existing product or build solutions from scratch.
- Team Management: A product manager is the leader of a team and must ensure all the members work well together to complete the project on time. They act as an intermediary between the client and the product development team. After discussing the project with the client, they explain the project to the development team to get the work done as per the requirements.
- Marketing Activities: A product manager conducts research and analysis and redefines business models to meet the business goals. He or she collaborates with the marketing team to promote sales activities and recommends strategies to drive sales forward. Also, product managers periodically review feedbacks from the client and accordingly formulate solutions to fill the missing gaps.
- Tracking Progress: Tracking progress is crucial for continued improvements and success. Besides managing administrative tasks, product managers must also strengthen the areas where the organization falls behind its competitors. They must also fix loopholes and defects, identifying areas that deserve special care and attention. Additionally, they must find ways to streamline business processes and build a seamless workflow from start to finish.
- Roles of PM at different levels: The roles and responsibilities of a product manager are somewhat different from other individuals in the firm. PMs must be cross-functional leaders who must strive their best to deliver satisfactory customer service. Furthermore, their roles and responsibilities may be sub-divided into day-to-day tasks, short-time duties, and long-time responsibilities.
Let us dive into each level in brief:
Product Manager Day-to-Day Responsibilities
On a daily basis, the product manager is responsible for the following:
- Maintain a product factbook
- Motivate the sales team and distributors
- Collect marketing records, trends, and opportunities, customer feedback, and expectations
- Unify sales, manufacturing, research, and development team for speedier project completion
- Estimate and control the budget to meet the sales goals.
- Product Manager Short-Term Responsibilities
In the short-term, the product manager is responsible for the following:
- Active involvement in annual marketing-plan and forecast development strategies
- Coordinate trade shows/conventions
- Initiate regulatory acceptance
- Connect with the marketing team to discuss ideas on product promotions
- Participate in new product development teams
- Predict and manage competitor actions
- Modify product cost to add value or reduce if required
- Recommend line extensions
- Participate in product-elimination decisions.
Product Manager Long-Term Responsibilities
In the long-term, the product manager is responsible for the following:
- Identify new-product opportunities
- Create a long-term competitive strategy for the product
- Recommend product changes, enhancements, and introductions
Top quotes on the Product Manager role
The best definitions of the Product Manager’s role come from experts from the same industry. Here are some examples:
Scott Brinker says – “The role of a product manager is to discover a product that is valuable, usable and feasible.”
Ben Horowitz, Andreessen Horowitz says – “A good product manager is the CEO of the product. A good product manager takes full responsibility and measures themselves in terms of the success of the product. They are responsible for the right product/right time with all that entails. Bad product managers have lots of excuses.”
Cornelius Fichtner remarks – “The “P” in PM is as much about ‘PEOPLE’ management as it is about ‘PROJECT’ management.”
“Great products are engineered when product managers truly understand the desired outcomes by actively listening to people, not users.” – Michael Fountain, Director of Product at Apptentive
Why do companies need product managers?
In an organization (say an IT company) where there are already specialized professionals like software managers, project managers, and marketing consultants, how do product managers fit into the equation?
Completing the project without collaborating with the different departments is not just strenuous but a time-consuming process. Product managers come into the picture when there is a need for increased collaboration between all the professionals in order to complete the project on time. They play a balancing game where they keep a balance between time-to-market and time-to-revenue.
When should you transition your product strategy?
Transitioning your product strategy is by no means straightforward and often needs a detailed analysis of your present performance. Figuring out the product designs, evaluating ROI, to name a few, are considerations that need your attention. If your business performance is impressive, there might be no need to transition your product strategy. However, if you are dissatisfied with the performance, there is certainly a need for a change.
Almost 80-85% of newly launched products fail because of improper product management. The most common reason for product failure is not preparing the product in line with market needs. By hiring a product manager in your organization, it is possible to reduce the failure rate, and at the same time, dramatically increase the chances of product success in the market.