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What is a Product Manager & Why I Love the Role

What is a product manager? Explore what the role does and why I love it.
What is a product manager and why I love the role

Product manager roles are amongst the roles most in-demand and most needed in software and product development. Good product managers can help to bring tremendous value to their organizations. Yet, the product manager role is often misunderstood and not well-represented or handled in organizations. So what is a product manager? It is a role that covers many aspects of software and product development work, and I have summarized it below.

I am writing this to help share my vision of the role, how it fits into organizations, and why I love working in the role!

So what is a product manager

In theory, the product manager guides products to meet the goals of their organization. But in reality, it is much more complex than that.

This role works in between the other roles involved to build and implement a product. Which, this will vary from organization to organization depending on the types of products they build. If we are talking software products, then the role often works in between the software engineers, the marketing and business areas of the company, and between the users of the software product. The work done between these roles is to connect all the different areas of product and software development.

After connecting the areas involved, then the product manager will be involved and to an extent, guide work thru those connections to build the best product that can be feasibly built. A product that works towards and can meet company objectives. What is a product manager then if not someone that literally manages the product.

This requires that product managers have the skills to envision where a product needs to go, in order to meet company objectives. Involved with that work is creating and aligning with strategy. Creating, updating, changing products as needed to help meet company strategy.

In the product lifecycle, this role helps to identify the work that needs to be done. By identifying customer needs and the larger company goals that can be achieved with product updates. The role defines the success criteria of a product and creates a vision of work for the team, that helps the team turn that into a reality.

What does a product manager do, that helps achieve these things? Here are some key responsibilities.

Key responsibilities of product mangers in Agile development

Product managers have a lot they have to do, and it can vary greatly from organization to organization. But, here are some things that are key. If you ask what a product manager does, this is a great start. If still asking what is a product manager, these responsibilities also help define the role.

  • Understand user needs
  • Defining product vision and product roadmaps
  • Key in product strategy
  • Prioritizing everything
  • Define what criteria means for success
  • Getting buy-in from stakeholders on vision
  • Understanding changing product and business needs and responding
  • Own the work backlog and keep it up to date
  • Getting user feedback and using it

What is a product manager and why I love the role

Now, what makes the role so great? These things are part of the question of what is a product manager and the reasons why I love the role. These are ideas for software development product managers. Helping to build the product and deliver quality software, while also building business value.

As a product manager, you are at the forefront of building products. You are involved with building cool new things for your organization. On the front lines with trying new things, building new products, and embracing or learning new ideas.

Key in building value

Product managers are also heavily involved with building value for your organization. They are key in finding the right work for their products and taking on that work to build real value for their company. The product manager role needs to keep a close eye on delivering value. They can’t squander away the valuable software and product development resources of their organization.

Solving problems and meeting needs

What is a product manager, they are someone that tackles the problems facing their products. A product manager gets to chase the issues and meet needs. This is a very fulfilling aspect of the role. Helping users with the issues or goals they have. And by doing so, helping build up products and value for the organization.

Combining ideas

Being in the middle of many ideas, some competing and some complimentary is a fundamental part of the job. Being able to learn much and take that learning to go do work on products and build value. Part of what a product manager does is being in the middle of so many working on products, and that means they have a lot of information coming their way. This can be stressful, but it also can be fun and a great opportunity. A way to learn and do so much and help build exciting products.

Learn what to do as a Product Manager

Ensure everything has a priority

Learn to prioritize all the work. Every piece of work there is to be done. Once it is known as a piece of work, it needs a relative priority. Relative being in relation to all of the other work. Because there are only so many resources to go around, the product manager must ensure they are working off priority as best they can. Because priority should be influenced by the value to be gained when working top priority items the top value is being gained.

Flatten the decision making hierarchy

What do product managers do? Well, one thing they don’t do is answer every question. They are one person that works as part of a large group. They can’t answer every question. And even if they could, the collective team can typically provide better answers. Therefore, the product manager doesn’t want to be a bottleneck for answering questions and needs to empower their team to go and make the best choices to get them to the best products possible.

Know when to say “no”

Sometimes you want to help everyone out and so you want to do all of the work. You take on all suggestions and ideas. But as a product manager, you have to know that you can’t do everything. Most importantly, you have to know that by doing some things, you take away from the top priority.

This means that sometimes you will have to say no. No is not a negative thing, especially when explained well. It is a tool to help get alignment from those bringing up ideas. No will help you to focus on the truly important product work.

You are working against your natural software and product development cycle when trying to do too much. Limit the work, by learning to say no or not now. It will help you to deliver what you do work on.

Learn how to influence to find what is a product manager

As a product manager, you often are responsible for getting the right work from many varying teams and team members without any direct authority over them. Learning how to influence is absolutely critical. Learning to work with team members, listen to them, and help them know that you are on the same team is needed.

Because during the product lifecycle the product manager works with so many team members and teams, they need to keep an adaptive and flexible attitude in how to work with others and gain their support. Gain influence by showing the way, not by telling.

Embrace a learn and adapt attitude

What does a product manager do if not learn and adapt? They own products and must continually update and evolve said products. This is done by learning what is needed or can be fixed, and taking on work to update it.

The same can be said for the processes of product management work as well. Continue to learn and adapt, fixing mistakes and processes that don’t work, and updating to ensure processes are better.

Handle criticism and opposition without taking it personally

As a product manager, you will probably hear more ideas countering your own than supporting. It is just part of the role. The criticism will always be there. The role requires you to have thick skin. Remember that it is all an opportunity to learn and do better.

All of these things and more are the product manager role. Stop asking what is a product manager today, dive in, and embrace the challenge of this role. Be empowered to learn the role and be the product manager you want to be.

Top skills needed for product managers

Some of the top skills for product managers.

  • Product planning
  • Strategy and vision
  • Research and analysis skills
  • Empathy for the users and customers
  • Communication
  • Management
  • Technical skills
  • Ability to judge value
  • Prioritization
  • Patience
  • Ability to say no

In the end

If you enjoy building software products, helping solve problems and meeting customer needs, the the product manager role could be for you. Or consider other roles involved in the product development or product management process. There are career options out there for you.

Additional reading – What is a Product Manager

Also consider this article from Aha on what the Product manager role is.