The PathMatch Guide to Becoming a Product Manager

Who are Product Managers?

As you can tell from the name, Product Managers manage products. That means that Product Managers are in charge of the product development process from start to finish. 

At the start, Product Managers work to discover and understand both customers’ needs and company goals to then decide what products and softwares should be built out next. From there, they map out the product development process by defining the scope of the project, creating an actionable strategy, and identifying key deliverables for the development teams. They are also in charge of managing the research, design, testing, and go-to-market strategy behind a product every step of the way. 

A Product Manager’s success depends on the product or service’s success, so this role is great for those who would find it a fun challenge to become invested enough in a product not only to get it off of the ground, but also to ensure it has longevity in the market and for its purpose. 

What are the responsibilities of a Product Manager?

Managing a product is no small feat, and Product Managers are responsible for many different things in their day-to-day. Let’s break it down:

Market Research
The average Product Manager spends a great bulk of their time studying the market. By conducting market research, Product Managers are better able to identify opportunities, challenges, and other helpful data points. If you are thinking about becoming a Product Manager, you don’t have to wait until your first job to start researching the market. Employers of Product Managers look for those who have a good grasp of the current market and where it is going, so start conducting your own market research today.

Brainstorm Ideas

Having a good understanding of the market will help Product Managers identify opportunities and brainstorm ideas for new products or improvements in existing products. This step is easier when a goal is identified first. Ask yourself, what is the problem we are trying to solve for? Once you have that figured out, the question becomes, how can we solve this problem? and the brainstorming can begin.

Develop Business Cases

Another responsibility for Product Managers is developing business cases. A business case is used to persuade C-suite executives to invest the company’s resources in your proposed product. Not all Product Managers have this responsibility; some focus only on pitching investors. This step requires a strong case through use of tangible research data and strong storytelling skills.

Product Design

While Product Managers don’t actually design the product themselves, they oversee the design process and team. This involves iterating certain elements and specifics of the design, such as the main features, packaging, and interface. 

Create a Marketing Strategy

As you can tell, much of what a Product Manager does is defined by market research. This is even truer when it comes to developing the marketing strategy for a product. Product Managers must carefully consider factors such as competition and cost to come up with marketing strategies for everything from pricing, time of release, promotion, and sales. Setting the go-to-market strategy is an important step as it’ll serve as a cross-functional blueprint.

Collaborate with Multiple Departments

Product Managers must play well with others, as much of their time is spent collaborating with a multitude of departments, from engineering to finance. The best Product Managers are able to boost productivity and motivate teams by communicating a shared vision and sharing a common language. 

The Product Management Process

Now that you know what the main responsibilities of a Product Manager are, let’s take a look at the steps of the Product Management process. It’s important to note that many of these phases are cyclical and continual; creating great products has no clear start or end.

Idea Management
At this step, new ideas are collected in the form of customer feedback, feature requests, problems, and product suggestions. Possible methods of idea generation include crowdsourcing and brainstorming sessions. Once ideas are collected, they should be evaluated based on how much value they would bring to your customer, then organized into your product backlog, where they can be referenced at any point. A good method of evaluation is to ask questions like: Would consumers use or pay for this idea? Should this idea be a top priority?

Specifications

The next phase of the Product Management process is to write out the “product specs”, or a product specification. The product specification is the document that lays out the specific requirements for a product. This will give product teams the information needed to build out a product’s new features or functionality. The product specs tend to be brief instead of over-technical, and address the following questions: What are we building and why are we building it? What are we trying to accomplish and how can we measure success? Product specs can be started as soon as an idea is formed and they can continue to be developed until given to the development teams.

Roadmapping

The next phase is the creation of another important document: the product roadmap. The product roadmap takes the product strategy  into account to map out the necessary steps needed to be taken in order to achieve the product vision. Product roadmapping helps Product Managers better communicate the end destination and what needs to be done in order to get there to teams across the company, from Product Marketing to Engineering to Sales. A good roadmap should relay your product strategy, overall business objectives, product areas, prioritization, and the scope.

Prioritization

Prioritization is an ongoing process of setting priorities for your product backlog to determine what should be built and when. Priorities are made by considering factors such as market need and feasibility. As it is an ongoing process, it is important to note priorities should be continually evaluated and adjusted to account for changes in the market. Priority charts like the one below are a great way to visualize which features are impactful and feasible.

Image by ProdPad


Delivery

Every phase of the Product Management process so far has been working up to this point: the delivery, or the transition of the product from a Product Manager’s hands to those of the developers. To ensure a successful delivery, make sure your product specs are clear and up-to-date. Be ready to answer any questions the developers may have, and consider having design mockups, prototypes, or user stories and feedback prepared.

Analytics & Experimentation

Time to get experimental! As with many of the other phases of the Product Management process, this step is actually conducted at multiple points throughout the process. The first point is during the specifications stage when you set the KPIs, or Key Performance Indicators, you want to track to measure the success of your product or feature update. The second point is upon delivery of the new change of the product. Use your previously set KPIs to determine success. Proposed changes should be viewed as experiments that test usability and effectiveness, and experimentation should be continual so you can better understand the user experience and identify any sticking points or opportunities for improvement.

Customer Feedback

Customer feedback provides great insight into which features and products work and which need fixing. There’s no better way to learn about problems and how to solve them than directly from your consumers. This is another step of the process that should be implemented at every stage as the customer should always be at the center of and what is driving the product. Some tips for Product Management best practices at this step include accepting critique, keeping your own bias out of it, and be okay with possibly needing to completely change course.

The Product Management Glossary

To help you get started on your journey to becoming a Product Manager, we’ve put together a mini glossary of common Product Management terms and definitions to give you a better grasp of Product Management vocabulary and help you go from product noob to product expert in no time.

Product Lifecycle Management (PLM)

The PLM is a large responsibility of the Product Manager and, just like it sounds, refers to the process of overseeing the entire lifecycle of a product, from concept to design and production to sale. The exact steps of the PLM are outlined above in the Product Management process.

Critical Path

A term commonly used for project management purposes, the “critical path” is the longest series of tasks and duration a project should take to get from Point A, the start, to Point B, the end goal. In order to find the critical path, Product Managers must first list out all tasks that need to be completed, estimate the length of time needed for each task, figure out the relationship, or dependency, between each task, and identify “critical” tasks for the project. 

Product Owner

If a Product Manager manages products, then it stands to reason a Product Owner owns products. But what does it mean to own a product? Product Owners are the people who come up with the initial idea. They “own” this product idea and are in charge of effectively explaining the concept to the product management teams. For some companies, the Product Manager is separate from the Product Owner. For others, these roles are one in the same.

Go-to-Market Strategy

As we have mentioned previously, one of the main responsibilities of a Product Manager is setting the “go-to-market strategy”. This strategy is often also called the GTM strategy, and much like the other Product Management terms we have defined, it is exactly what it sounds like. Product Managers must come up with a strategic plan for how to release, promote, and ultimately, sell, a product. The Product Manager considers and includes aspects like overall business goals, target audience, buyer personas, pricing, release date, marketing strategy, sales strategy, and more in order to come up with their go-to-market strategy.

User Persona

It is easier to understand who exactly is or will be using your product when you have a clear, tangible understanding of a person. That’s where user personas come in. Personas are made-up representations of your typical user or customer. While they are “made-up” in that you will be creating a fictitious character, they are not made up in that they are based on the demographics and psychographics of your customers.

Product Vision

What is the long-term, big-picture goal of your product? This is normally determined by the Product Manager or CEO. Everything that is done related to the product will come back to this vision. This is the ultimate goal and what the product team should constantly be striving towards.

Objectives & Key Results

Objectives and Key Results (OKR) refers to the measurable, trackable goals you and your team set to help motivate, guide, and prioritize the product process. These often stem from the product vision, but break it down into specifics that you can track and measure to better understand the effectiveness of your efforts.

Key Performance Indicators

Key Performance Indicators, or KPIs, are similar to OKRs in that they are measurable and trackable. As their name suggests, they are indicators of performance. Your job as the Product Manager is to decide which metrics you want to measure, set them as your KPIs, then track them over time to get a big-picture understanding of what is working and what is not. You should typically have 5 to 6 broader KPIs to monitor regularly, as well as others for specific situations.

Customer Journey Map

The customer journey map is a visual diagram that maps out the customer journey from discovery to use to result. These maps are significant in uncovering customer pain points, revealing any gaps in service, and helping teams to align on business objectives.

Value Proposition

When creating or updating a product, it always comes back to this question: What value will this product bring to my users? The value proposition (VP) is the written statement that answers this question and drives the product. The statement should be written for your customers and should acknowledge their current pain points and how your product will solve them.

Lifetime Value

Is your product a membership service? Does your product offer add-ons or upgrades? Are your customers loyal? These are some things you should consider to determine lifetime value, or the total dollar amount you expect your customer to spend on your business during their lifetime.

Product Management Skills

What makes a great Product Manager? Product Managers have to wear many hats, from collaborating with designers and developers to communicating with clients and making sure they stay informed, so it is a role that takes both technical and social skills and puts them to work. If you are interested in Product Management or are curious to see if it could be the path for you, take a look at the Product Management skills we’ve listed to find out what it takes to be a great Product Manager.

Strategic Planning & Product Lifecycle Management

Being able to think and plan strategically is a major part of a Product Manager’s job. In order to successfully plan strategically, you must have a good understanding of the market and competition. This requires good forecasting skills, inductive and deductive reasoning skills, the ability to be decisive, the ability to ask the right questions at the right time, good delegation skills, the ability to set realistic goals and stick to them or change them as necessary, as critical and logical thinking skills. 

As a Product Manager, you must have a deep understanding of the product lifecycle so you can use this knowledge to your advantage. This will help you define the roles of everyone. By combining an understanding of the product life cycle with planning strategically using all the aforementioned soft skills, Product Managers are able to succeed in product lifecycle management by predicting how much time each phase will take and when is the best strategic time to position your product depending on market cycles. 

Project Management & Communication

Managing a product is a huge undertaking, so it’s important to have Project Management skills. As a Product Manager, you will be working closely alongside skilled sets of teams, ranging from User Experience( UX), developer teams, design teams, Business Analysts, and others who will be working with you on different aspects of the product or program you are managing. As you are the main person in charge of the project, or the product, it is important to have the ability to allocate resources while working with such a wide variety of professionals as well as the ability to stay organized with all of the moving parts that are making up the team supporting your product.

Things can change quickly, whether that is different instructions from clients, a tweak from a developer, a deadline missed, and more. The ability to manage and communicate all changes, work through any obstacles, and keep all of the information neat and readily available for you and your team will benefit you greatly in this position.

Product Release Management

Overseeing and managing product releases is another responsibility of the Product Manager. This requires good delegation and communication skills so that everyone, from other managers to designers to developers, has a shared understanding of the end goal and how they are going to get there. 

Value Proposition Creation

We touched on Value Proposition earlier in our Product Management glossary. As we explained, the Product Manager is in charge of creating clear value propositions that you can communicate to your team members, designers, developers, and whoever else what the goal of your new product is and how it will meet customers where their needs are. This will help motivate all collaborators towards a common goal and make sure everyone is clear on what to do in order to meet that goall.

Flexibility, Critical Thinking, & Problem-Solving

While we’re on the topic of things changing quickly, let’s talk about the importance of flexibility as a skill. Things can change early in development or at the last minute, and you need to be able to adapt to these situations and overcome problems they may present. Trade-offs may be needed when in a time crunch, and with so many moving parts you need to be quick to think and solve problems on your feet. 

Data Collection, Extraction, and Analysis

Data is very important for every Product Manager. It is what drives Product Managers to make the decisions they need to make in products and services. For example, if someone suggests a price change for your product or service, there better be data to back up the reasoning of increasing or decreasing price. In this instance, a Product Manager may research increase/decrease in earnings within their demographic or  look within their own data and find trends within their demographic to support a price change.

Product Development Process

Product Managers will be running hypothesis testing as a process, so being very familiar with A/B testing is a must. This allows growth and optimization strategies to be formed to create the best product and strategy. Products and strategies will always pivot from the original, so one must be ready to adapt and pivot throughout the process. 

Research & User Experience Knowledge

Before any product or service comes alive, there is always extensive research behind the need. Product Managers must have knowledge of and be able to conduct User Experience (UX) Research through qualitative research, deep diving into customer development and market research, and building research of customer journeys. 

Design & User Experience Knowledge

Having a good understanding of User Experience (UX) is an absolute necessity for Product Managers, especially since Product Managers often work pretty closely with designers. Product Managers should, at the very least, have fundamental knowledge of UX design and UX research, and be able to speak the same language as their designers. 

Creativity

Creativity is also a great skill to have. In this position, there is a bit of room for creativity. You don’t need to be a full-on designer, but if something needs to change it is always good to have the ability to make suggestions. Creative skills also allow you to provide input that will benefit your team quickly when problems arise. This can mean having basic understanding of programs developers work with, such as Sketch, Invision, and others, but it can also mean thinking creatively when it comes to solving problems and meeting your goals. Employers look for Product Managers who are able to think outside of the box.

These skills are just some of the foundational skills those who want to be a Product Manager should have. The learning never stops, and there are always skills to pick up or sharpen at every point in a Product Manager’s career. Also, some Product Manager positions are more specialized and require much more knowledge about a certain area, such as design or computer science.

The Best Companies for Product Management

Ok, now you know the Product Management process, the terminology, and the skills you’ll need. Now let’s explore some of the best companies for Product Management.

Amazon

Average US Salary for a Product Manager: $174,711

Did you know Amazon actually makes more as a SaaS (Software as a Service) company through Amazon Web Services instead of as an online retail giant? Yes, Amazon’s main line of revenue comes from their large list of AWS Cloud clients that includes Netflix, NASA, Airbnb, Slack, Comcast, and many more. Check out our blog here to learn more about why people want to work at Amazon and how you can prepare.

Google

Average US Salary for a Product Manager: $218,329

Employees at Google are treated very well, with the encouragement to pursue their own projects, Google Campus perks like baristas and pool tables, and very competitive pay. Google also offers an awesome Associate Product Manager (APM) Program for recent grads and early career professionals as well as an APM Internship for college students. These positions are incredibly competitive and difficult to land. Thankfully, we put together a Guide to Getting Hired at Google to make it easier for you. 

Uber

Average US Salary for a Product Manager: $234,691

Another great company to work for as a Product Manager is Uber. While they are a traditionally B2C (Business-to-Consumer) company, they are looking to move direction and become more of a B2B (Business-to-Business) company. They are looking for Product Managers who are able to aid this pivot by thinking creatively and having a large range of responsibilities. What do we mean by that? Product Managers at Uber are more a full-spectrum PM, which translates into having an easier time getting promoted. Uber places an emphasis on training their product teams, which translates into success for the company and career growth for individuals.


Want to beat out the competition?

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