There is considerable confusion around the role of a product manager. This is paradoxical, especially since there is so much interest in the role, yet it is poorly understood and often misunderstood.
The level of interest in product management is so high that business schools now offer specializations focused on product management. The confusion around the role probably arises from the recency of the role. In comparison, the more recognized roles of, for example, a designer or engineer are better understood.
What is a Product Manager?
A product manager is responsible for identifying customer needs and defining how the product or feature aligns with the organization’s business goals. Additionally, the product manager defines the metrics to evaluate success. Most importantly, the product manager works with and drives the team to deliver the product.
Product management can lie at the intersection of business, technology, and user experience. However, this does not mean that a product manager is a specialist in all three disciplines. Instead, the product manager balances the needs of the three disciplines and takes on the responsibility of making decisions and managing trade-offs.
The Responsibilities of a Product Manager
The responsibilities of the product manager vary with the size of the organization. Typically, in larger teams, the product manager is an integral member of a team of specialists working on a product.
A team would, naturally, contain researchers and analysts who collect inputs on product requirements, developers and designers who design the product based on the specifications, build the product, test its prototype, and find and resolve bugs. In these teams, the product manager coordinates and aligns the work of these specialists with the organizational goals.
In smaller organizations, while still being a part of a team, the product manager must be significantly more hands-on and ensure that product development goes through to fruition.
The responsibilities that you in a product manager job role will be required to discharge entails include:
- Determining and defining user needs. You must interact with customers to verify that what is being built is of value to the customers. These customer interactions also help identify features to be developed later.
- Defining the product’s features and capabilities. You are responsible for determining the specs of the product. Product specs include – business goals, product features, customer experience, etc. The specs will need to be reviewed periodically with the engineering teams and the customers.
- Analyzing the market and the competition. Leverage market conditions data and competition’s moves to make well-informed product decisions. The business needs to stay abreast of the changes in the industry and the competitive landscape.
- Strategic Planning. You will be responsible for determining and executing immediate tasks and driving the product’s long-term vision and strategy. The product manager, in addition to the near-term performance of the product, is also responsible for its future performance.
- Aligning the team’s efforts to ensure the attainment of the product’s vision. Your job will be to see that the team performs as a cohesive whole to deliver on the product’s vision.
- Professional development of the team members. Every business is a going concern. For the business’s long-term success, there must be a pipeline of talent. The product manager must enable team members to grow professionally and take on greater responsibilities.
- Documentation. You will be expected to keep information on product development and work progress flowing to the internal stakeholders and customers. Information on release dates, bottlenecks, solutions, meeting notes, etc., keeps everyone aligned and reassured.
Traits of a Good Product Manager
Several traits go into the making of a great product manager. To be a successful product manager, the traits that you will need to possess include:
- Cutting Through the Clutter. You will need to work with a limited set of resources regarding both people and budgets. The product manager must cut through the clutter of tasks, prioritize the critical tasks, and use the resources to attain the goal. Prioritization involves steering product development to address the larger segment of users and ignoring a seemingly attractive feature that does not have too many takers. The product manager needs to weigh the costs and benefits of every choice and steer the team toward the decision that furthers the organization’s business goals.
- Focus on the Big Picture. You need to be aware of ground-level activities and not lose sight of the big picture. If the product managers get too bogged down in the execution and fail to track the big picture, they could make sub-optimal decisions. Good product managers periodically review progress, take stock, ask questions, and realign the team. They are constantly talking to the team and the customers to refine plans and the mode of execution.
- Delegate, Delegate, Delegate. You are expected to be many things, but you are not expected to have superpowers. Empower the team to make decisions. When product managers delegate routine decisions to the team, they free themselves up to focus on the big picture and move the team and the organization upwards. This also helps in their professional development.
- Winning the Team’s Trust. To be an effective product manager, winning the team’s trust is essential. Trust is won by listening to the team and demonstrating that you hold yourself to the same expectation that you have of them. Keep open communication channels and understand what levers you can pull to get the team moving without being overbearing.
- Resilience. Any role demands making tradeoffs. In product management, balancing competing views on features, development roadmap, budgets, etc. You need to be able to make the right tradeoffs and be able to explain the reason for the tradeoffs rationally. Product managers must be resilient to push organizational decisions through the inevitable resistance.
In addition to doing the above things, a great product manager has a strategic vision, can influence the team, and raise everyone’s performance. Great product managers empower their teams to do great work. Interested in learning more about product management, entrepreneurship, consulting, digital marketing, and a host of other job roles? Seekho can help! Login, subscribe, and download the Seekho app here.
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