What is a Product Manager? A guide to the job you never knew you wanted.
“I want to be a product manager when I grow up.” said no child ever in history.
But, if you go to any tech hub around the world, you’ll find a bunch of some of the smartest folks working as product managers, building some of the coolest products in the market. Browse the “We’re hiring” section of any tech company and you’ll almost always see product manager positions open.
So, why the demand?
Both the times and idea of what constitutes a cool job are changing, and product management is fast becoming one of the hottest jobs in tech right now for students fresh out of university, or people later on in their careers. And one of the coolest things about it? It’s not just the guarantee of a pretty decent salary once you get into the role, or that being a product manager is key to the market positioning and growth of a company. It’s that you don’t need to come from a tech background to get into it!
The need for diversity in product management
You could be in marketing, or sales, or finance, or have studied Ancient History and still make the transition to becoming a product manager, as long as you can show and hone the relevant capabilities. Vision is everything in this position and thus so is diversity, because of the core skill of interpretation product managers must utilise. Business models can be interpreted in many different ways and user needs are widely varied—there’s no one way of deciding the elements that should be developed in a product (if there was we’d have machines as product managers).
The role of product manager requires a level of insight when it comes to interpreting business models and product realities to create a product-market fit. More than ever, women and people of colour are needed in product manager roles in order to push forward products that reflect our modern reality. We need inclusive products that can speak to everyone, truly solve problems and push the boundaries of tech in more interesting ways.
You can’t get a degree in product management. There’s no single career path to get there. It’s more about the skills and vision required to do the job well than a particular pedigree. Problems that need tackling and customer pains can only be identified and solved within teams if someone is overall responsible for the product and has an overarching view of the market, production, and communication, to assure the successful outcome of the product.
But, despite the importance of the role and the growing need to have more individuals who can fill these positions, there’s still no finite definition of what a product manager is exactly. Job descriptions and even job titles relating to product manager can vary from company to company, and past attempts to briefly summarise the role—e.g. “A product manager is like the CEO of their product”—have mostly been rejected for being either too broad or too limiting. And then there are the times when people confuse the position of product manager with project manager, altogether making the whole thing more difficult to understand than it needs to be.
So what exactly the hell is product management? (and why is it something worth getting into/deeper into?)
What does a Product Manager do?
Okay, let’s say that a product manager is the company’s market expert, or at least strives to be. This means that a product manager provides info and facts about the current market, including arguments for market communication (fact-based arguments and unique advantages of the product-market fit) as well as generally coordinating their technical team and bearing overall responsibility. If there are hurdles in achieving the goal, product managers take on the responsibility to develop and implement solutions with their teams. Good product managers work to develop products that encourage strong user adoption, have exponential revenue growth, and perhaps even define or change the industry.
Would-be product managers should look to hone or develop baseline core competencies alongside the high emotional intelligence that adds much to the role. There are competencies every product manager must have and should constantly be striving to develop via as many routes as possible, including courses, on-the-job experience, and mentoring.
Key Core Competencies
- conducting user interviews and testing
- road map planning
- feature prioritization
- resource allocation
- performing market assessments
- translating business-to-technical requirements, and vice versa
- pricing and revenue modeling
- running sprints
- defining and tracking success metrics
What does effective product management look like?
The day-to-day of product managers can include a range of strategic and tactical duties, and what each product manager does will vary from company to company and from product to product. Some might spend the majority of their time focused on the following:
- Research to gain expertise about the company’s market, customer personas, and competitors.
- Developing strategy for the product, inclusive of goals and objectives, a broad overview of the product itself, and a rough timeline.
- Communicating plans to key stakeholders across the organization and facilitating communication across cross-functional teams throughout the product management process and beyond.
- Coordinating product development with the relevant teams—engineering, product marketing, etc, to start executing the plan.
- Utilising feedback and data analysis once the product has been built, tested, and introduced to the market, learning via data analysis and soliciting direct feedback from customers—what works, what doesn’t, what to add and what to improve before working with the relevant teams to incorporate all feedback into future product iterations.
It really all depends on where you end up working. There’s no set job description for product management, which can really make for an exciting challenge in developing the different skills required to work across a range of companies and products.
Do you need technical skills to be a Product Manager?
The main role of the product manager is to be the market expert and to identify valuable problems that the company or product should solve, not to make technical decisions about how to implement solutions. Product managers don’t need to be as technical as developers. Their role isn’t to be the “how” when it comes to the product, but instead to provide guidance on the “what” and “why”?
Nevertheless, even if you’re not working in an engineering-focused company (e.g. as a product manager working with APIs, data-heavy, or developer tools), it’s really helpful to understand technology so you can:
- Crunch your own data to make better data-driven decisions
- Be able to better make LOE (level of effort) predictions for new features
- Be able to prioritize technical debt appropriately alongside new product features.
Part of the Product Management Course at CodeOp addresses technical skills— including querying data with SQL and A/B testing—for this very reason. We believe in the importance of empowering women and trans non-binary folks to gain skills and technology across many applications, giving them the space and opportunity to do this in an inclusive environment.
Getting into product management
A product manager’s job is all about solving problems for people, making the skillset highly valued in the tech world. Upskilling in this area will make an excellent addition to your resume, and the learnings you’ll gain will be lifelong, with the risk being minimal.
So, ask yourself the following questions:
- Do you find yourself staring at a complex world and identifying problems to solve?
- Are you thrilled about the idea of creating great user experiences within a product?
- Can you take vague user problems and turn them into real plans?
- Is it an exciting challenge to create and study information about markets, industry trends, competitive movements, and user sentiment, then evaluate that information to find within it the answers about what a fast-growing and developing company should do next?
If you answered “yes” to all of the questions above, product management might be exactly the area of tech you should be getting into. And the insights you can bring to this area of tech are exactly what’s needed to keep moving the world of tech forward.
Learn more about our Product Management Course starting this July
This blog was updated on July 3 to provide a wider explanation of the technical role of product managers.