The Pretty Good Guide to Product Management
We breakdown product management from top to bottom with an in-depth look at the field, industry, and careers around it.
Software and technology products and services play an increasingly influential role in our daily lives. From smartphones and social media to entertainment streaming services and everything in between, we’re living in an age where ‘digital products’ stitch together every moment of our lives.
Each and every one of these products is created from an incredible amount of pre-planning and strategic thinking. Every detail is pored over, to ensure it makes as big an impact on the consumer as possible.
The importance of this comprehensive, strategic view of a product has only recently been fully realised. That’s why product managers are now so highly sought after, in what’s being called the ‘golden age of product management.’
What is product management?
Simply put, it’s deciding what to build next and overseeing the way it’s built.
When a company is looking to create a new product, there are so many factors at play that influence the decision on what kind of product should be developed. A product manager is the founder and leader of the project, factoring in the vision of the business, metrics, market information, technologies and many other criteria to deliver the right product at the right time.
Many people think CEOs or senior leaders of a company are in charge of what products are made. In fact, while they might make the final decision, product managers are the driving force behind the products that have an impact on the market.
Product management comes down to creating products that are three things: valuable, functional and feasible.
In order for a product to be successful, there must be a need from a customer’s point of view. Product managers begin by putting themselves in the customers’ shoes to understand what it is that would bring most value to their lives.
The idea of a valuable product isn’t easily defined and this is where a product manager’s job really begins. A product could have a very practical value for a customer, making a regular daily activity easier. On the other hand, the value could be an emotional one, something that contributes to the customer’s wellbeing.
In terms of finding value in a potential product, product management is essentially bridging the gap between a problem and a solution for consumers. The best product managers can see problems at a deep and complex level, often finding problems that consumers don’t necessarily realise exist. They can always see solutions to these problems in a very creative way.
However valuable the concept is, it’s only valuable to the consumer if it can be easily used. Product managers spend a lot of time thinking about the form and functionality of the product and the way the consumer will feel when they are using it. Much of the development process is involved in shaping this experience, to make the product as functional and user-friendly as possible.
Once a product manager has decided whether a product should, they then need to consider whether it can be made. This is where the free-flowing creative ideas are grounded in reality, to try to understand the impact of the manufacturing process and the ongoing effect of the product on the business. Every factor is considered: time, money, effort and resources, to conceptualise how the product could be made.
What does a product manager do?
Experts in generalisation, a product manager has a wide range of roles within a company. At a glance, here are some of the daily activities a product manager can expect to be involved in.
- Creating and defining product strategy
- Collaborating with design and technical teams
- Creating and maintaining the product roadmap
- Communicating with customers and stakeholders
- Analysing data
- Market research and scoping out competitors
- Team management and recruitment
Key stages of the product management process
Let’s take a look at how a product manager is involved in the creation of a product, from beginning to end.
Product managers lead the all-important first stage creative sessions, where those golden ideas come about that can take a business to another level. They create and organise a system where ideas are collected, aggregated and stored. Ideas that aren’t initially used can be revisited at a later stage..
Ideas can be filtered for their potential by holding customer interviews or brainstorming sessions within the team. Each idea will be vetted and, based on market research, a decision will be made as to whether an idea is worth pursuing or not.
Once an idea is given the go ahead, the next stage is to look at it in more detail. Finer technical points come later – this stage is all about a simple, bullet-point view of the basics. The simple spec should be able to answer key questions, such as why is the product being built, is there a need, what are the goals of the product development and how will success be measured. Some specifications can be more detailed than others; it all depends on the typical style of the company.
Once the general details of the product have been laid out, it’s time for the product manager to develop the overall vision and strategy of the product. This comes in the form of a roadmap. It’s essentially a visualisation of the product’s journey, capturing every step and showing exactly where the product is coming from (the problem) to where it’s headed (the solution), as well as how it will get there.
Far from a static picture, roadmaps are constantly evolving. They will change based on feedback, market shifts, customer needs and internal company factors. As it is the first key strategic document that will be communicated to major stakeholders within the company, a product roadmap is extremely important. It needs to be clear and engaging, telling a story and captivating key players within the business, showing them why this particular product can make a real impact.
Rather than a particular step in the journey of a product, prioritising value is something that happens continuously. Product managers are in charge of deciding what is important in the moment and what can be laid on the backburner, to be dealt with at a later date.
Setting priorities is a huge and often undervalued element when it comes to creating a product. A great product can be lost due to a company’s inability to prioritise, which is why having a leader with the intelligence and sincerity to make big decisions is very important.
As well as prioritising decisions based on what’s good for the product, a product manager must also take the needs of stakeholders into account. Balancing the views and opinions of the whole team with their own view on what will make a successful product is an essential part of being a product manager.
While the main role of product management is based before and after delivery of a product, a product manager still has a major part to play during the delivery process. They must make sure that the product is matching up with the initial idea, meeting all requirements and expectations. This can mean in a broader sense – thinking back to ‘valuable’, ‘functional’ and ‘feasible’ – as well as in terms of the finer details.
At this stage, a product manager must be able to communicate their ideas clearly to project managers and engineers, who will be in charge of constructing the product and sending it out into the marketplace.
Analytics and experimentation
Following the release of the product, product managers are tasked with examining how closely it fits with the initial idea. More than likely, this will be a beta testing stage, where analytics can give a real insight into the value and functionality of the product, as well as what specific improvements could be feasibly made.
Data visualisation is hugely important at this stage. Having an overview of customer behaviour is a big asset. Key decisions are made which fine-tune the product and can make the difference between the success and failure of the release. Data visualisation specialists will collaborate with product managers and other major stakeholders to decide on ideas for improvements, based on the available metrics.
Once ideas for improvements are created, experimentation allows each idea to be tested until the best ones are found. A variety of tests can be carried out across different parts of the user base, to find out what works and what doesn’t. From this, the roadmap will evolve, and the product manager will have a system of continuous testing and improving in place.
After all the hard work, excitement and sky-high optimism comes the stage where everything is brought firmly back down to Earth. As the final test, the customer feedback stage can be as brutal as it is useful – a product manager is tasked with both preparing the team for a reality check and getting the most out of all the information that comes back to them.
Feedback comes from a variety of avenues, including customer interviews, support requests, conversations and usability testing. Getting feedback from consumers can also bring out the creativity of product managers, who should always be looking for innovative ways to capture the opinions of the public. Product managers should then create an efficient and well-defined system that captures and organises all of the feedback data, so that it can be fully analysed and acted upon.
What skills and attributes are needed to be a product manager?
When it comes to jobs that require a well-rounded skill set, there’s nothing quite like being a product manager. You might be obsessing over the details of a high-level product road map one moment, then deciding on the finer details of the user experience the next.
Being a product manager requires both the in-depth technical skills related to the industry and great personal skills that help unite the team. Here’s a list of specific abilities you’ll be expected to bring to the role of product manager:
These are the specific technical capabilities that product managers need to possess to carry out tasks within the role.
One of the most important abilities for a product manager is being able to see everything from a wider context. Every decision, no matter how large or small, will have an impact on the final product and the overall customer experience. A good product manager always has the main goals in mind when making strategic decisions and is able to think ahead of time to avoid problems and create solutions.
A large part of product management comes down to understanding the customer and tying in customer needs with marketing strategies. A product manager must collaborate with the sales and marketing team to find the right customer profile and make the maximum impact with the product. They are also involved in mapping the buyer’s journey and developing the customer journey funnel.
Another skill type that involves having a relationship with the customer, understanding the user experience is key to being an effective product manager. Working with the design team, a product manager must be able to understand the needs and concerns of the customer and help shape the user experience.
Whatever the product is, a product manager must have expert knowledge in the related industry. This informs every decision made, from the development of the initial idea to shaping feedback systems post launch. They need to know about the competitors within the space, emerging technologies that are pushing boundaries and breaking new ground, the state of the market and where investments are being made within the industry.
A product manager should have enough technical knowledge to be able to have conversations with the development team. They will need to make key decisions, often based on complex technical subject matter. The more they know about the technical side of their industry, the better equipped they will be to make the right decision.
In addition to technical skills, product managers need to possess those all-important social skills that help bind a team together, as well as the more intuitive abilities that can’t be measured.
Here are some of the most important soft skills when it comes to product management:
Being able to collaborate with a diverse range of stakeholders, including the CEO, marketing team and design team, not to mention the consumers themselves, is an essential attribute for a product manager. Understanding different viewpoints and listening to the needs of every part of the team can be very difficult and is crucial to the success of the product. An effective product manager creates harmony throughout the team by communicating a clear, well-defined vision.
Intuition is a crucial attribute and something that comes with plenty of product management experience. Great product managers know how to achieve growth and increase revenue by seeing opportunities and pitfalls before they happen, and steering the company in the right direction. They also know how to use qualitative and quantitative data to maximise the impact of a product.
The ability to prioritise
Throughout the whole product management process, a product manager is always prioritising certain tasks over others. They must consider the overall goal of the business and the product itself and be able to constantly shift focus depending on the importance of tasks at any given moment.
Having the curiosity to fully understand the needs of the consumer and to see a problem from every available angle is a great ability for a product manager to possess. They should have a desire to explore new systems and technologies, to examine new concepts and generally want to break new ground and evolve, both personally and as a company.
A counterpoint to the segmented, organised approach to product management, creativity is one of the hardest skills to teach, yet remains one of the most impactful. A creative, open-minded individual can change a business with one stroke of ingenuity, seeing patterns where others don’t and having a fearlessness when it comes to generating ideas and innovating.
Whether it’s inspiring multiple teams across the business, resolving conflicts or helping to create the culture within a company, a product manager has a big part to play when it comes to leadership. The product manager’s enthusiasm and attitude has a profound influence on every team within the company; making a positive, forward-thinking product manager an invaluable asset within any organisation.
A good product manager knows how to see things from the perspective of others. Not only must they understand the needs of customers and listen to their problems, but they must also take viewpoints of all stakeholders on board. This is a very challenging balancing act and requires a certain personality type – at heart, all good product managers are people-oriented.
Product management tools
Here are some key management tools that all product management managers should have in their stack.
An adaptable, easy-to-use roadmapping tool is worth its weight in gold when it comes to creating that early strategy and defining the vision of a product in a clear and concise way. Here are some of the best roadmapping tools on the market:
Sometimes, intuition isn’t quite enough. Here are some top tools that can help product managers to define a path, drop things that aren’t working and generally save time and money:
- Feature Upvote
Keeping tasks and teams organised is a big part of product management and getting the right tool for the right team is crucial. Here are some of the best:
Prototyping tools are key to making delivery of a product as painless and smooth as possible. There are now some great options that can demonstrate how the vision of your product can translate into something tangible. Some of the best prototyping tools out there include:
- Adobe XD
Cutting through the noise and getting valuable information about the product is hugely important. The feedback stage can help iron out problems and perfect a product. That’s why, when it comes to gathering, understanding and responding to feedback, product managers need to find a suitable tool. Here’s a few of the best:
- Google Forms
Are product managers in-demand?
One of the most sought after professions throughout Europe and across the world, the demand for product managers has continued to rise over recent years. The tech industry, in particular, has shown a massive increase in demand for product managers, particularly for those with technical programming skills.
The rise of smaller startups throughout Europe has only intensified the search for product managers with a comprehensive knowledge base, to act as the connecting point for all teams within a company.
What’s the average product manager salary?
In Europe, the average salary for a product manager is €79,880.
How do you become a product manager?
First, make sure you’re the right fit. Technical skills can be learned and honed over time, but to be a product manager you need those inherent abilities that are hard to teach. So, if you’re a creative problem-solver who loves working in a team, you’ve already got the foundations in place.
At CodeOp, you can build upon these foundations to equip yourself with all the necessary technical abilities and soft skills to become a product manager. Our Product Management Course gives you the toolkit you need, from a strategic mindset and leadership abilities, to analytical skills and technical knowledge.
You don’t have to have experience in the tech industry – it doesn’t matter what your current industry or role is. As long as you’ve got the desire and the relevant soft skills, you’re a good fit.
Our course is 100% remote and, as it’s part time, it allows you to fit everything around your schedule. Class sizes are small, meaning more one-to-one attention and a more in-depth, faster learning experience.
So, are you ready to dive into Product Management? Click the image below to download our Product Management Course Guide and start your journey right now!