Product Management 101 [Part 1]: Understanding the Role and Responsibilities
“At the heart of every product person, there’s a desire to make someone’s life easier or simpler. If we listen to the customer and give them what they need, they’ll reciprocate with love and loyalty to your brand.”
- Francis Brown
This week we start a new series on Product Management! I've been a part of the B2B product and retail space for almost 15 years, and specifically worked within B2B SaaS companies in Professional Services and Product Management for over 7 years, and so these insights are going to be from the perspective of someone with experience in the B2B space, however, I think the lessons I share can still provide value to those who work or wish to work directly with consumers as well.
The aim of this four-part series is to cover the fundamental aspects of what it is to be a product manager, including the role and responsibilities, roadmap development and setting goals and strategies, collaborating with cross-functional teams and stakeholders, and best practices for launching a release and managing new and existing products throughout their lifecycle.
The target audience for this series are folks looking to break into the role of Product Manager and may have only recently heard of it, however, I'm hopeful there's info in here that would be helpful for new and even experienced Product Managers. It's my intention that this series will evolve over time as I level up as a Product Manager, so will be updated from time to time based on my new experiences.
This week we start with some of the fundamentals.
What is product management?
Product management is the process of overseeing the development and lifecycle of a product or sometimes in larger organisations, feature. From the initial birth of an idea (or if you're managing an already mature product, through an effective Product Feedback Strategy) all the way through to product/feature retirement, it is your responsibility to ensure its success.
This typically includes defining the product vision and roadmap, gathering and prioritising customer and market requirements through customer interviews or in-app surveys, working with cross-functional teams to bring the product/feature to market, and managing the product/feature once it's been released.
As a product manager, you are responsible for ensuring that your team is united behind a clear vision and that each member understands the impact this vision has on the team, the business, the customers, and even the wider industry.
The skills and qualities that define a great product manager
"Represent the business and the user, but don’t monopolise your insights. Don’t just represent the needs of external parties—expose your team to these parties. Your team should be able to prioritise work without you."
- Defining the role of a product manager, Faster Times
When I initially moved into Product Management I had a misconception that I had to be as skilled in programming as some of the brilliant developers I've had the opportunity to work alongside, but this is far from the truth.
Product managers must possess a range of skills and qualities to be successful within the role. In my opinion, soft skills have more impact in driving towards a successful product or feature launch than engineering experience, however, both are desirable and I think would give you an edge in becoming a great product manager.
Effective communication is key for product managers, as they must be able to clearly articulate the product vision and roadmap to stakeholders. They must also be able to listen to and incorporate feedback from these stakeholders and customers in order to continually improve the product.
Strategic thinking is also crucial to the role. You need to be able to look at the bigger picture and make long-term decisions that will shape the direction of your product, while also being flexible enough to adjust your course if customer feedback or makes trends demand it. This is where I thinking technical knowledge and experience can come in handy as it can give you a more informed perspective on the approach being taken and help you better explain it to non-technical stakeholders.
Problem solving in general is also essential in order to keep the team unblocked and working as effective as possible, and having a contingency plan to help mitigate any potential issues that may have been unforeseen.
As a product manager you will often have to take on various roles and responsibilities. At its core, you will be part of a cross-functional product development team, and you will use your knowledge of business and technology to support the team in whichever way you can.
"Making tradeoffs will inevitably make people unhappy. The trick is to first make the right tradeoffs, and then be able to explain why you made the decision you did. If you’re good at explaining your decision, someone can still not like it, but more often than not, they’ll respect the way you made it. And even if they don’t, great product managers figure out a way to deal with it."
- Sherif Mansour
Product managers who excel possess the ability to not only set clear and inspiring product visions, but also effectively communicate their decision-making process and persuade others to follow. Personally, I am always striving to improve my skills in this area.
It's also worth noting that the most successful products are often the result of teams of skilled individuals working together seamlessly. As a product manager, it's crucial to lead and guide this work in an enthusiastic and effective way.
Resources & References
- Defining the role of a product manager - Faster Times
- Product Manager: The role and best practices for beginners - Atlassian
- What is Product Management? - Product Alliance
- Product development teams need a customer feedback strategy - Faster Times
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