A product manager is a professional role that is responsible for the development of products for an organization, known as the practice of product management. Product managers own the business strategy behind a product (both physical and digital products), specify its functional requirements, and generally manage the launch of features. They coordinate work done by many other functions (like software engineers, data scientists, and product designers) and are ultimately responsible for the business success of the product.
Product managers traditionally resided in the marketing organizations of technology companies, but have since additionally become staples of engineering and even product-specific teams.
A product manager considers numerous factors such as intended customer or user of a product, the products offered by the competition, and how well the product fits with the company's business model. The scope of a product manager varies greatly, some may manage one or more product lines and others (especially in large companies) may manage small components or features of a product.
In the financial services industry (banking, insurance etc.), product managers manage products (for example, credit card portfolios), their profit and loss, and also determine the business development strategy.
The term is often confused with other similar roles, such as:
- Project manager: may perform all activities related to schedule and resource management
- Program Manager, sometimes known as Technical Program Manager (TPM): may perform activities related to schedule, resource, and cross-functional execution
- Product owner: a popular role in Agile development methodology, may perform all activities related to a self-encapsulated feature or feature set plan, development and releases
- Product marketing manager: responsible for the outbound marketing activities of the product, not development and cross-functional execution
Product management in software development
The role of the product manager was originally created to manage the complexity of the product lines of a business, as well as to ensure that those products were profitable. Product managers can come from many different backgrounds, because their primary skills involve working well with customers and understanding the problems the product is intended to solve.
A product manager is responsible for orchestrating the various activities associated with ensuring that a product is delivered that meets users' needs. A software product manager's role varies as the software moves through its lifecycle; earlier in the development process the product manager meets the intended audience of the product to engage in requirements elicitation, whereas later in the lifecycle the product manager's primary focus may be in acceptance testing of the product. Throughout all the stages of the product development process, the product manager represents the needs of end-users, evaluates market trends and competition, and uses this information to determine what features to build. For example, a product manager may decide a feature is needed because users are asking for it, or because the feature is needed to stay competitive. In order to facilitate this decision-making process the product manager may set out a vision for the product or a general framework for making product decisions. The product manager also ensures an atmosphere of cohesiveness and focused collaboration between all the members of the team, all in the interest of driving the product forward. Product managers are often thought of as sitting at the intersection of business, design, and technology.
Within an agile software development environment, similar responsibilities are taken on by a product owner, a project role that can be performed by a product manager which is the corresponding role in an organization. While the product manager has a strategic and long-term perspective with a strong focus on the market success of a product, a product owner aims to maximize the business value of the product or increment created by an agile project which can include benefits within an organization and does not explicitly relate to a product's marketability. Therefore, a product owner focuses mainly on the development of a product while a product manager has a more holistic perspective. Another difference is the time-focus of both roles: a project is time-bound which limits the responsibility of a product owner role in a project to the time frame of a project. A product manager role, in contrast, requires a long-term perspective and often does not imply any expiration at all. The role of a product owner in a project can be performed by a person with a product manager role in the organization which can help ensure a successful implementation of strategic considerations during the operational development of a product.
The day-to-day responsibilities of a product owner/product manager within an agile project include creating and prioritizing the product backlog, which is a list of things to be done by the development team, in order to maximize the business value created by the project. The product backlog is often made up of user stories, "a placeholder for a conversation between the product manager... and the development team." These are brief narrative descriptions of what a feature should do, including a checklist of items that are required to be in place in order for the feature to be considered done, called the acceptance criteria. The details of how the feature is developed are worked out by developers and designers. At the end of the development sprint, the product manager is responsible for verifying that the acceptance criteria have been met; only then is the work on the feature officially done.
Product manager career progression
Product managers often start their careers as engineers or specialists in other functions and eventually transition to product management. Increasingly, though, large technology companies are hiring and training young graduates directly through programs like the Google Associate Product Manager program or the Facebook Rotational Product Manager program.
Product managers undergo a structured interview process, often a mix of case-based product strategy interviews, analytical interviews and more traditional behavioral interviews.
In most organizations, product managers have no direct reports: they "lead through influence." As individuals grow in seniority, they eventually take on managing other PMs, under titles like "Product Director", "Director, Product Management" or "Group Product Manager".
Because of the broad responsibilities, product management is often seen as a training ground to C-level leadership roles in technology companies. Notable individuals who have held the role of product manager include Sundar Pichai (CEO of Google), Marissa Mayer (former CEO of Yahoo!), Premal Shah (president of Kiva.org), Reid Hoffman (founder of LinkedIn) and Kevin Systrom (founder of Instagram).
- Program director
- Collaborative Product Development
- New product development
- Product management
- Product planning
- Product marketing
- Marketing requirements document
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