The past few years have seen a growth in demand for product managers in the job market. This is because of the rapid rise in the number of startups that direct applications and products to solve every niche gap in the market. A product manager is a person who takes full ownership of the lifecycle of a product, from its development to market positioning, growth and revenue. Today a wide variety of courses are available online, if you want to pursue your career in product management, or even if you want to upscale your existing skill set.
The last decade has seen a massive change in the dynamics and functioning of businesses. Today traditional roles and well-defined career paths are giving way to new roles and responsibilities. Therefore, it becomes important to always be aware and updated of the changes around you and how you can learn new skills that will help you grow in your career.
Product management is an appropriate shift for anyone at any stage in their careers. This is because it is a generalist role requiring a more comprehensive skillset, which brings a team of disparate functions together. When a startup or an enterprise imagines a new application or product, the role of a product manager is critical to success.
Who is a product manager? What is the role of a product manager?
Product managers are responsible for the product right from it being an idea to the final production stages. Even after the business’s products reach the market, product managers are also responsible for assessing how customers react to a product’s overall packaging, the marketing and the features of the product, as well as keeping track of the competition and demand.
A product manager should also have a fair amount of business and design knowledge and be aware of what the customer is looking for. This helps them to ensure that the product is delivering exactly what the customer wants. Product managers are basically responsible for the entire product development process.
What are the skills required to be a product manager?
A product manager is a good all-rounder, with skills that help them to understand the market and competition, financial aspects such as profitability and pricing, consumer insights, the technology to be used and how to manage timelines. Some of the skills that a product manager may find useful are:
- Strategic Thinking
This process begins with asking questions and then understanding the market and competition, identifying what that is missing and filling in that gap. After finding answers to this question the idea of a product begins to take shape. This is a long term vision of the product, what you want to do with it, who is your target audience and where are you going with this product. The product manager builds a product roadmap that captures the main features and business context, what they want to achieve and how they are going to reach their goals. This involves going through a whole lot of data understanding what is relevant and what is not, going through planning stages and finally arriving at the product that aligns with the customer needs and the vision of the company. It's an intricate balance to maintain.
- Communication and empathy
Product managers communicate with a broad spectrum of people day in and day out. They need to understand the customers, the internal stakeholders, collaborate with other teams like the designing team, the marketing team operations and financial teams to name a few. They need to understand the finance and operations aspects of the product in terms of how much investment is needed to finance the product and breakeven as well as make it profitable. Product managers work with the marketing team to gain insights from the market data and predict the costs of the product. They also work with production and development teams to manufacture prototypes or design the application, in case the product is a software. Therefore, a product managers’ communication skill must be on point to juggle between multiple stakeholders and relay relevant information to others. Such a long vision requires empathy as it helps in identifying and analyzing the views voiced by both the creators and the users of the product to deliver exactly what each customer and stakeholder needs.
- Ingenious, Rational and Analytical
Product managers are extremely resourceful, as they have a ground to the ear and know the pulse of the market. They are an ingenious and resourceful group, needing to innovate, multi-task and cooperate with many people. Product managers are respected for their meaningful analysis, problem-solving with innovative and creative approaches. Product managers today need to have know-how about marketing, product design and sociology. These skills can be honed by taking up online courses.
A product manager has to go through different kinds of data related to the product to assess all aspects of the product by filtering through various data sets and communication. They need to understand the mindset of the targeted audience and predict market trends to price and produce the product in the best way. They need to understand what is working and what is not working with the product by reviewing production data. At each step you will need to understand the mindset and opinions of stakeholders, customer requirements and his internal teams. Product managers need to be well versed in the art of visualizing and interpreting data. They accumulate data and provide their observations after listening carefully, analyzing based on logic and facts.
- Attention to Detail
A good product manager can identify the opportunities and understand the possible negative outcomes and fill in gaps. The continually changing landscape means a product manager should be aware of the changes on all fronts, whether on the market, the customer needs, the timeline of the production etc. They need to keep close track of everything, to see where there is a dependency and mitigate any risks to the success of the product.
The career path of a product manager is mentioned below
A product manager’s career path can be an interesting journey, filled with learning opportunities. A typical progression for a product manager is:
- Associate Product Manager
- Product Manager
- Senior Product Manager
- Director of Product
- VP of Product
- Chief Product Officer
What are product manager responsibilities?
A product manager has a range of responsibilities that span all sorts of tasks and skills. Here is a brief look into what the day-to-day work of a product manager looks like:
- Cooperate with other teams
When a product is in its nascent stages, or a product needs to be revamped at any point, or at times even if it is the next step of growth such as acquisition or merger, the product manager plans the path and all activities along the way. Hence a product manager’s responsibilities include a lot of association with interdepartmental teams like the business development, design, tech, and marketing teams to get data and analyze and present them in the correct manner. During the life cycle of the product, the product manager collects feedback from customers or internal stakeholders and works with various teams to improve the product.
- Managing product life – planning an execution
As a product manager you need to prioritize which feature needs to be upgraded, what can be tweaked and how to plan for production and delivery. This means constantly ensuring you are running the cycle of customer feedback and including new product features, or changing the pricing, marketing or promotion around it to get the maximum profits. Shaping the forthcoming product lineup along with its long-term strategy, updating the product as per the changes trending in the industry and competition and predicting what could negatively impact the product are important aspects.
- Designing and Specifications
A product manager has to walk a fine line between pleasing the customers, keeping the vision of the company in mind and delivering products that the customer is looking for. Hence all the minute details, from design to specifications to materials used in production is handled by the product manager.
Lifecycle of Product Management
A product manager is responsible for the entire lifecycle of the product, from conceptualization to productization and market launch. They also plan growth direction, product updates and at times, even the closing down of the product. Here are the steps in the product life cycle:
This phase deals with identifying product ideas that are in tune with the organization's vision and long-term goals. Ideas can come from outside resources like customer data and interactions, competitor actions, supplier connections or public portals. These can also stem from internal resources, such as trend analysis, brainstorming sessions, product reviews and feedback. After collecting pertinent ideas, it is best to sift through them over time using the following steps:
- Keep a backlog to capture ideas.
- Combine identical ideas on a regular basis.
- Evaluate new concepts against existing goals.
- Endorse viable ideas to the product roadmap.
At this phase, product managers control the decision making about which ideas should be a part of the final product roadmap. In order to reach that decision, they have to address the following issues:
- Does it fill that gap and will it deliver what the customer is looking for?
- What is the existing and probable scope of the market?
- What is the return on investment, in terms of cost and time?
- Can the product be produced with the capital at hand (people, money, and time)?
The result may not get authorized if the projected idea is retrofitting a problem instead of solving it, or if the working costs of keeping the product in the market are too high. The team need to perform the following activities to give them the answers they are looking for
- Hypothesis building
In this phase, the product manager will chart out expectations using in depth details researched on competitors and the product they offer. They will use both qualitative and quantitative data to proceed. At this phase they outline the business context, the need for the product and why it will be successful and may even create a proof of concept of the product itself.
- Strategizing and planning
The product strategy stage should preferably encompass the following details:
- What problem is being tackled and what is the targeted audience
- Long term vision
- Expected user and revenue forecast
- Design & development
This is the delivery stage of a product life cycle. A product manager must synchronize with several teams to finalize which features would go into the product. Once the investors approve the specifications and prototypes of the product, the production of the product can commence. If it is a physical product, this could mean lining up a factory and production line, or if it is a software, it will require a team of developers.
- Product launch
Finally, the product is unveiled and launched into the market, every department is a part of the launch of the product. The product manager is involved with the marketing team to design the launch, with the development team to fix any issues before the launch. This may close the development part of the product life cycle, but the work of a product manager does not end here – they must constantly keep in touch with consumers and markets to upgrade and upscale the product. This is always going to be an ongoing process.
Product management is a critical part of any organization, accountable for the successful management of the end-to-end product life cycle. With geographical boundaries diminishing we are going to be seeing an increasing growth in the demand for skilled product managers.