Avg Compensation: $137,000 | Average Hours Worked: 51/week (from TransparentMBA)
When Facebook adds “emotions” or add voice messaging, how does this happen? While Mark Zuckerberg might come up with new ideas to enhance Facebook, he’s not involved with every facet of his business product development. Product Managers (PM) are often referred to as “mini-CEOs” because they are responsible for the full lifecycle of a product. The PM is responsible for understanding the market to make informed decisions about the direction of the product, defining how the product will meet these goals and then executing. PMs get to be the “Mark Zuckerberg” of their products. They get to dream up what new features or additions the product needs and then lead a team of cross-functional staff towards that goal.
PMs are called mini-CEOs because they are responsible for everything related to their product from research and conception to design and implementation. The chart below gives a good overview of the breath of responsibilities of a PM. At the most basic level, the PM role can be broken down into 3 main tasks:
Understand the customer and the market
PMs are in constant contact with their customers, gathering data and pain points so they know how to tailor the product to meet their customer’s needs. They are also acutely aware of changes in the industry and what their competitors are doing so they can properly position their product for success. PMs conduct a lot of research and are able to gather and synthesize this information to develop a vision or goal for their product.
Create the path to achieving your goal
Once a vision is developed, PMs are responsible for charting the course. PMs define exactly how the goal will be achieved, at what cost and on what timeline. This includes details such as the technical requirements, marketing strategy or operational needs. PMs must work with groups across the organization to figure what limitations and capabilities exist in each development stream.
PMs are also responsible for the profit/loss of their product. They constantly assess the financial risks of product changes by building financial models or managing business analysts.
PMs manage the day-to-day execution of their plan and pivot and adapt to new obstacles when necessary. PMs track the progress against stated goals, analyze why goals haven’t been achieved and then develop solutions.
The job of a PM is exciting but also difficult, given the wide range of responsibly. Often no one is telling you what to do or what to focus on each day. This gives the PM the autonomy to drive their product but it can be extremely difficult to know how to start and where to focus. PMs often themselves “Am I going down the right path?” or “How does it tie into what I want to do?” PMs are self-motivators and prioritization ninjas.
What makes a good PM?
Relationships are key. Successful PMs are skilled at building relationships across groups and teams. The PM role touches all departments from design to customer service. What sets good and bad PMs apart is the ability to influence others absent of direct authority
Loves meetings. Most communication happens in the forms of meetings: meeting with developers, designers, customers – you name it. Good PMs can communicate across various departments and convey what their vision is and how each department can help get them there. Not all communication is verbal though, some companies and groups prefer written communication so being able to take a vision and turn it into a technical document is essential (and so too is the revise of taking something technical and turning it into a digestible piece of information).
Works towards the bigger vision. Often PMs are responsible for one piece of a larger product or suite of products. PMs are responsible for knowing how their piece fits in to the larger goal or vision of the company while integrating seamlessly with the other products available.
Understand the market. PMs need to constantly be talking with their customers to understand their needs and determine how their product is or can address those problems. This is done through many avenues such as surveys, focus groups, or behavior labs.
The product manager’s role is to avoid this:
Companies that Hire PMs
There is no set industry that hirers PMs. Product managers exist for any product such as shirts at the GAP to warehouse distribution at Amazon. PMs also exist in all sized companies. However, the role can change depending on industry, company size, and if you are managing a new product or an existing product.
This can be a great benefit as PMs can tailor their job search to specific industries, company sizes or cultures. Finding an open position can be challenging, however, as specific role you want may not be available unless the person who is currently doing it moves on.
While hierarchy can change from company to company, a typical hierarchy will have a Director that oversees the entire product (e.g. iTunes store) with PMs responsible for a specific functionality (e.g. payments on iTunes store) or sub-product (e.g. Health Apps on the iTunes Store).
While no set background is required to be a PM, companies do tend to value industry and company specific knowledge. Having direct knowledge of the customer the product is serving will give you a leg up in the role and in any interview. Additionally, knowing the ins and outs of the product you want to manage, how it integrates into the company’s larger vision and having ideas on how to improve upon the product is also a plus. A quick way to get this knowledge is becoming a user of the product. If the product you want to manage is a technical one, download it, play around, and figure out what could be better.
Depending on the product or company, more specific backgrounds might be required. For example, to be a PM for a very technical product might require a technical background such as being able to code or having a deep understanding of how systems work. For example, a technical background is needed to work on Amazon Web Services (AWS) – a cloud computing service. You do not need to know how to code (though this is a plus), but you must display an interest and deep understanding of how technologies and systems work.