What Does a Product Manager Do? The Ultimate Guide

Post date :

Nov 17, 2023

product management process

What is Product Management?

Product Management is a multidisciplinary role that sits at the intersection of business, technology, and user experience. It entails steering a product from conception through development, launch, and continual improvement, ensuring it meets the users' needs while aligning with the business objectives. The non-linear nature of product management often entails adapting different frameworks and approaches depending on the type of product, the industry, and the specific challenges at hand.

What Does a Product Manager Do?

A product manager (PM) plays a multifaceted role in the development and success of a product. They define the product strategy, roadmap, features, and success metrics. They act as a bridge between the customer and the development teams, guiding the product's entire journey from concept to market, and ensuring it meets customer needs while aligning with the company's business objectives.

While specific responsibilities can vary depending on the organization and the specific product, the core aspects of a product manager’s role include:

  • Market Research: They need to deeply understand the market, customer needs, and their competitors. Product professionals conduct research to identify customer pain points, preferences, and emerging trends.

  • Product Strategy: They define the product's overall strategy. This involves setting goals at a product level and a feature level, identifying target customers, and positioning the product in the market.

  • Product Development: Product managers work closely with cross-functional teams, including engineers, designers, and marketers, to bring the product to life. They prioritize features and functions, create a roadmap, and make sure the development process aligns with the overall strategy.

  • Prioritization: They are responsible for deciding what features or improvements should be added to the product and in what order. This involves balancing customer needs, business objectives, and technical constraints.

  • Lifecycle Management: After the product is launched, product managers continue to monitor its performance. They gather feedback from customers, track key metrics, and make data-driven decisions for ongoing improvements.

  • Customer Advocacy: They serve as the voice of the customer within the company, advocating for their needs and ensuring that the product aligns with those needs.

  • Product Launch: Product managers oversee the product's launch, ensuring that it goes smoothly and is effectively marketed. They collaborate with marketing teams to develop a launch plan and strategy.

Product Manager vs Project Manager

Many people confuse product managers and project managers, but these roles are distinctly different. A product manager focuses on the strategy and the ‘big picture’ of products, guiding it from idea generation through to delivery and continuous improvement. Their role involves understanding market needs, defining product strategy, prioritizing features and ensuring product-market fit.

In contrast, a project manager focuses on the tactical execution of a specific project. Their focus is on managing day-to-day aspects to ensure projects are completed on time, within scope, and on budget. This role involves detailed planning, risk-management, scheduling, overseeing project resources and quality assurance. 

While both roles require coordination with cross-functional teams and strong management skills, the product manager is more vision and strategy oriented, while the project manager is execution and tactics-oriented. In most organizations, these roles are separate to ensure a clear focus on both strategic product development and efficient project execution.

Skills You Need to Become a Product Manager

If you're interested in becoming a product manager, set yourself up for success by developing the following key skills.

Communication skills

Product managers collaborate cross-functionally, and interact with stakeholders at every level of an organization. The ability to effectively communicate your ideas, goals, and needs to different teams as well as stakeholders in a succinct and clear manner is a critical skill for a successful product manager.

Additionally, product managers need to be superb listeners and exhibit significant emotional intelligence. These skills are important when you need to solicit as well as gather customer feedback, and identify plus evaluate users’ challenges.

Prioritization, Organization, and Collaboration Skills

Product managers require strong prioritization, organization, and collaboration skills to efficiently manage tasks, allocate resources, meet deadlines, and maintain a user-centric approach. These skills are vital for adapting to changes, reducing technical debt, resolving conflicts, and making strategic decisions while ensuring stakeholder alignment and customer focus.

Technical Acumen

A product manager often collaborates with software engineers and product designers to bring products, features, and designs to life. Having knowledge of software development processes, basic coding principles, web technologies, and database management is not only instrumental in facilitating effective communication with engineering teams; it also plays a crucial role in understanding the feasibility of product ideas. A product manager with a good grasp of this can more accurately assess what’s possible, anticipate challenges, and contribute meaningfully to technical discussions, ensuring the product development aligns with both technical capabilities and business goals. 

UX Design Principles 

A good understanding of user experience (UX) design principles is key for product managers. This involves awareness of how to create user-centric designs that are both intuitive, engaging, and effectively incorporates user feedback. It’s crucial for product managers to develop the ability to discern between poor, mediocre, and exceptional design, as it is critical in providing constructive feedback and communicating effectively with design teams. By understanding these components, product managers can help guide the design process to achieve a balance between aesthetic, functionality, and user satisfaction. 

Data Analysis and Interpretation

Proficiency in data analysis is critical for making informed decisions. This includes skills in using SQL for data querying, and tools like Optimizely for conducting bucket tests and A/B testing on features. The ability to interpret data effectively enables product managers to understand user behaviour, measure product performance, and make data-driven decisions for product optimization and strategy. 

Innovation and Creativity

In the dynamic field of product management, the ability to innovate and think creatively is crucial. Product managers should continually integrate deep market knowledge and insights into the competitive landscape. They must stay abreast of industry trends and conduct thorough research to uncover unique market opportunities, creating openings for their products that align with both user and business goals. By combining vision, creativity, and strategic market insights, a product manager can significantly elevate their product's relevance, appeal, and competitive standing.

Product Manager Salary and Career Paths

A product manager often takes responsibility for one or multiple products or oversees a cross-functional area across various products, like "user experience," "product analytics," or "e-commerce." The breadth and depth of a product manager’s responsibilities increase with seniority. Indeed reports that the average annual salary of product managers is $92,224 per year in Canada.

The role of a product manager can vary significantly depending on the industry, product type, and specific needs of an organization. Each type of product manager brings a unique set of skills and focuses to the table, tailored to the distinct challenges and goals of their specific domain. Below, we explore the different types of product manager roles, each with its own set of responsibilities, challenges, and required expertise.

  • Generalist Product Manager: Often the most common type of PM, they manage a broad range of responsibilities across one or two products. They are involved in various stages of the product life cycle, from discovery to delivery and market adoption. Key challenges include prioritizing new feature discovery while growing existing features and managing a diverse set of stakeholders.

  • 0 to 1 Product Manager: Specializes in creating and launching new products, requiring strong skills in discovery and strategy. This role involves significant customer and market research, and the development of a clear product vision and roadmap. Challenges include managing ambiguity, diverse stakeholder ideas, and the need for a high level of influence and adaptability.

  • Technical Product Manager (TPM): Critical in tech-centric sectors, TPMs collaborate closely with engineering teams, focusing on technical feasibility and standards compliance. They need expertise in areas like security, APIs, and cloud infrastructure. Challenges include balancing technical constraints with business objectives and simplifying complex technical information for non-technical stakeholders.

  • Growth Product Manager: The growth product manager collaborates with growth teams and other PMs to develop growth strategies for acquisition, activation, retention, revenue, and referrals. They emphasize experimentation, like A/B testing in customer segments, to improve metrics.

  • AI/ML Product Manager: Manages AI/ML-driven products, requiring expertise in data science and machine learning. They work closely with data scientists and engineers, balancing technical limitations with business requirements, and considering ethical and privacy issues.

  • Enterprise Product Manager: Focuses on B2B market products, dealing with long sales cycles, enterprise-level requirements, and complex stakeholder management. They need to ensure regulatory compliance, high security, and reliability standards.

Related Jobs

There is more than one path to become a product professional, here are some related careers: 

Product Marketer

A product marketer bridges product development and the market by crafting compelling narratives, defining value propositions, and driving product adoption through marketing strategies. They work closely with product managers and sales teams, conducting market research, launching products, and adapting to changing market conditions.

Product Analyst

Product analysts use data and analytics to provide actionable insights for product improvement. They collaborate with teams, define key performance indicators, and analyze user behaviour and market trends. Their role is to empower data-driven decisions that enhance a product's alignment with customer needs and business objectives.

How to Become a Product Manager?

1. Get a bachelor's degree

Since there is no degree for product management, employers may consider applicants with a bachelor's degree in computer science or business, or a related field. A typical bachelor’s degree takes between four to five years to complete.

2. Independent learning

Whether starting out or changing careers, you will want to build your skill set and knowledge. You can do this by reading books, blogs and articles, listening to podcasts, and watching tutorial videos. The effectiveness of this option depends on your preferred learning style. However, it is highly recommended that you take this option in conjunction with option number three. This will give you direction in your independent learning and ultimately save you time.

3. Earn a certification

A product management certificate program, like our Product Management Bootcamp, can provide you with the advantage necessary to secure a competitive position as a product manager. You'll follow a well-defined educational path to acquire vital skills, benefit from the guidance of experienced product managers, create a project portfolio, and obtain a certification from a reputable institution.

4. Apply to jobs

Work experience is the most effective option, and possibly the hardest to execute. If you have work experience in another job, highlight how your skills in that job are transferable to a product management position. Whether you are looking to switch careers or just starting out, four, eight, and twelve-month internships are an excellent way to gain relevant experience.

Product Management Bootcamp With The University of Toronto School of Continuing Studies

Passionate about bringing digital products to life through the intersection of  business, technology, and UX design? Take the next step and enrol in the Product Management Bootcamp with the University of Toronto School of Continuing Studies and Circuit Stream.

© Circuit Stream.
This course is delivered by Circuit Stream in collaboration with the University of Toronto School of Continuing Studies.

© Circuit Stream.
This course is delivered by Circuit Stream in collaboration with the University of Toronto School of Continuing Studies.

© Circuit Stream.
This course is delivered by Circuit Stream in collaboration with the University of Toronto School of Continuing Studies.