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A rising niche – Making a strong career in product management

Definitive guide to a career in Product Management

Product Management is one of most popular streams or niches that management students are getting into today. One would ask what product management is? Product Management is a dedicated responsibility within an organization to ensure each step and requirement of a product’s life cycle. The people concerned and owning this task are called Product managers. 

In any organization, the founding brick is a concept or an idea which later transforms into an offering (either physical or virtual). This idea or concept only advances with more details such as features, price, look and feel, the problem it will solve and its target audiences. In order to put these elements into place, an organization hires people with different skill sets such as engineers, strategists, designers, communication specialists etc.  The prime role of a product manager is to oversee all tasks associated in building the product, marketing it and eventually making sales. Product managers also ensure that all tasks happen at the right time and with the right intensity in order to avoid any complications in product curation. They are expected to be subject matter experts of almost everything associated with the life cycle of a product. 

In India, every year there are more than 20,000 product management job roles that are available for skilled candidates to pursue.

What are the skills required for becoming a successful product manager? 

Since a product manager needs to oversee more than one task in an organization, they are required to acquire many skills to become product experts. 

Marketing competencies: Product managers need to understand the market that the product is set for from the very core. The questions that they need to have answers to are: What problem does the product solve, what are the right target audiences of the product, pricing at which it should be offered, mode and channels of marketing, branding and communication, what kind of stories can be weaved around the product, what are the primary and secondary requirements of the product, what should be the color on the packaging, how can the product be sold directly to the right consumers etc. These are just a few of the competencies that a product manager must have in order to do justice to a product. 

Project management: With any product comes a trail of projects. A project can be selling the product to a government body, a country, a company, or any other environment which demands a start and end date. A product manager is entrusted with overseeing the starting of a project and executing it till the end date. A product manager is expected to make decisions on requirements, setting goals and ensuring the resources are in place for successful accomplishment of a project. 

At a given time, a product manager may have to take up one or more projects for the organization. In certain circumstances, a product manager is also expected to decide the advantages and disadvantages a project may bring to the company and decide the future of the project based on that. 

Technical skills: While a product manager is not required to know or acquire hard technical skills such as building an application, create a code or build the product from scratch, the product manager is expected to have knowledge of all technical elements involved. The product management job requires constant upgrading and upskilling with time to time. Since products are different organization to organization, product managers need to repurpose and unlearn and reconfigure every time they are in any new organization. 

Research skills: Product management jobs require one to be good in reading and finding new theories about a particular product as well. One should remember that a product needs to showcase uniqueness and even maintain uniqueness in the market in order to not get outdated. A product manager must speak with subject matter experts, always be in the look-out for making the product better, read about features that have already been talked about before. 

In any organization it is also required to run assessments and longevity of a product and this can only be done with extensive research. A product manager is an active member of the R&D team of an organization as well. 

Empathy: In Product management it is mandatory to be sensitive about the environment around. While a product manager understands a product inside-out, they are also expected to understand the environment in which the product exists. Product managers need to understand the background, sentiment and at large the solution that the product is destined to offer for a real problem or requirement as raised by the audiences.  

What are the key roles and responsibilities of product managers in an organization?

In large sized organizations, a product manager has a role of an embed. As an embed, the manager is a part of all key departments such as, research, marketing, technology, sales etc. In a medium to small organization, product managers have more hands-on work to do. They are immersed in various tasks and every now and then do the ground-work as well. The key roles and responsibilities of any product manager are:

  1. Understanding and establishing user needs – If a product doesn’t resolve or respond to specific needs of the targeted customers then it becomes difficult to keep the product in the market for very long. It is also imperative for a product manager to build a distinctive persona of a product for the prospective users to easily understand. 
  2. Market and competitive analysis – With an evolving market, a product manager needs to make continuous efforts to keep the product relevant. An important aspect of that also is understanding the competition(s). A product manager treats a product like their own child however, product managers should understand and know the organization’s competitions even better. It is only through a thorough analysis of the competitors that a product manager would understand the USPs of their own product. 
  3. Setting the course of the product – Product managers must set the end goal or vision for the product. It is the entire life cycle of the product that a manager needs to curate and ensure that the product travels through various steps. Throughout the course, product managers keep a close look into each step. They are also responsible to gather feedback directly or indirectly from the audience and consider measures for those. The vision set by the product manager acts as the bible for all teams working in sync with each other. 
  4. Syncing all departments – Just as a motherboard that manages all elements of the computer, a product manager is expected to sync and align all departments for meticulous execution of any job or project. Product managers are the common medium between primary and secondary departments and are required to be present for all important decision making with regard to the product life cycle. 
  5. Ensuring product capabilities – All product managers must ensure that products meet with the USPs stated publicly to the target audiences throughout the shelf-life of the products. It is also important to upgrade the product with advanced features. The insight for these advances comes from the research and analysis done by the product managers. 

Difference between product manager and product owner 

Most people confuse between the two however, a product manager is largely different from a product owner. While a product manager sets the direction and course of a product, a product owner closely works to build a product against the capabilities and features set by the product manager. Some of the key differences between the two are:

1.Stakeholder management – Product managers work with both internal and external stakeholders. However, product owners collaborate closely with internal stakeholders only. 

2.Product vision – Product managers help set the vision for the product, product owners on the other hand work with teams to ensure execution of work against the shared vision. 

3.Success metric – Product managers outline the success in the form of goals and product owners ensure that the success or goal is achieved. 

4.Ownerships – Product managers own all departments associated in streamlining the work. However, product owners manage independent product teams to meet with the product structuring only. 

  1. Involvement – Product managers are involved with teams based on the concept of the product only whereas, product owners are required to step-in and do the day-to-day jobs and responsibilities. 

Tips for becoming a successful product manager 

Like other leaders, product managers must have certain skills to ensure that people working on concepts set by them feel in-sync with them. Some of the best practices to become a successful product manager are:

Prioritizing tasks – To ensure the meticulous execution of  a product’s life cycle, a product manager must create a priority list. Since there are a lot of tasks involved, a priority list helps the teams to create checklists for themselves and work with a clear mind. 

Asking questions – Most product managers are hired after the initial conceptualization of a product. It is imperative for product managers to take a pause and ask questions to understand the process and the product better. 

Empowering the teams – Product managers have a lot to oversee and hence it is important for them to entrust their teams and allow them to work independently. 

Influence the teams – Product managers feel deeply connected to the product and this makes them sensitive about the processes involved in setting the course of the product. However, product managers should practice team building and bonding exercises in order to make their vision a shared vision amongst all. 

Why choose a career in product management?

Product management is a rewarding job and has scope to branch out to key roles within an organization. A product management course enables individuals to understand the skill sets required to do justice to a product. Here is why one should consider a career in product management: 

  1. The roles are high paying and provide scope to find new roles within an organization. 
  2. It is an interdisciplinary role and allows one to interact with almost all departments in an organization. 
  3. Product management courses help learners upskill in research, marketing, sales etc. 
  4. Career in product management is new and has a huge future in India. Organizations today have more than two product managers managing different products in an organization. 
  5. Product management career makes it possible to transition into new roles easily.

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