Climb the Ladder

What Does a Product Manager Do?

A fulfilling role which combines creativity and strategy to move new products from conception to launch.

You’re an idea person, a shaker upper, a game changer—no wonder you’re bored at work.

Well, we’ve got a job you’ll love. Say hello to your new career as a product manager.

Not sure what one is or if it’s right for you? Check out what a fellow product manager has to say and make your own decision.

What exactly does a product manager do?

A product manager defines consumer needs and business objectives and translates them into viable, innovative products.

This person plans and executes the steps necessary to move new products through each stage of development, from conception to launch.

Developing and maintaining roadmaps to drive products, establishing and communicating product requirements, overseeing usability testing and prototype development, prioritizing features, writing enhancements and defining and tracking metrics are all in a day’s work.

The job also involves driving deliverables to meet milestones and deadlines, creating user stories, packaging and promoting, facilitating cross-functional teams and conducting market research and competitive analysis.

“Each day is pretty dynamic,” said Vickie Peng, director of product management for shopping site/app Polyvore. “Definitely no two days are the same.”

What skills does a product manager need?

Strategic thinking skills are paramount. “A product manager is expected to solve amorphous problems—like how to accelerate growth—so you have to be able to break things down into manageable chunks, methodically evaluate potential solutions and make a decision,” explains Peng. “It doesn’t matter how well a product is built if it’s not solving a problem.”

Communication skills are also essential. As the “mini-CEO,” you have to articulate your vision and expectations to engineers, designers, marketers, salespeople, etc. The ability to collaborate with each group is important too. Remember, as everyone’s favorite motivational poster says, there’s no “I” in team. Building a product and getting it into consumers’ hands is a team effort.

You should also have some technical sensibilities. You don’t have to be the second coming of Steve Jobs or anything, but you should have an understanding of A/B testing, standard measurement platforms such as Google Analytics, and software development lifecycle (SDLC ) methodologies.

And while you certainly don’t need design skills, you should be comfortable with drawing out wireframes and know how to evaluate UX.

Most importantly, a potential product manager should be detail-oriented, deadline-conscious and results-driven.

Who would I report to?

At a larger company, Peng said you may report to a director or VP of product. At a smaller company, the head of product may double as a founder or CEO, so you could be taking direction from the top dog.

Any tips on excelling in this position?

Just rely on your “secret sauce,” Peng says. That means taking that one thing you’re ridiculously awesome at, whether it’s creating something from scratch or analyzing data, and doing it like no one else can. What better way to make yourself invaluable?

How can I become a product manager?

Don’t waste your time worrying about your degree. “One of the cool things about product management is that people come from all different backgrounds—technical or nontechnical degrees, MBA’s and more” said Peng.

Try starting in product development or UX design to learn some of the ropes, and join a group like Product Development and Management Association to connect with others in the field.

You can also start learning all you can about UX.  Add yourself to the list for our upcoming course on how to evaluate UX like a pro and you’ll get access to our early bird discount.

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