What is a product manager?
A product manager is often considered the subject matter expert of their respective product, with the broad task of ensuring its success. This role requires a deep understanding of both the company’s existing members and target audiences. The product manager performs a critical role in the business landscape, working at the intersection of business, technology, and user experience. They deliver value to the organization by defining the strategy and roadmap for a product or product line, and then working closely with various stakeholders and teams to successfully execute it.
As the one responsible for providing stewardship over the entire product lifecycle, a product manager is the point person for product-related questions, concerns, and feedback. They usually work with several teams—from engineers and designers, to sales, marketing, and customer support. On top of all this, they play an instrumental part in ensuring customer satisfaction, as the products they manage directly impact the end customer’s experience with the organization.
Duties and responsibilities
A product manager is responsible for defining and communicating product strategy, aligning it with the company’s overall goals and market trends. They create, maintain, and communicate detailed product roadmaps to guide the product’s direction. This involves defining what features to build and in what order, considering both the needs of the end user and the resources available.
Coordinating with multiple stakeholders within the company is another vital duty of these individuals. From engineers and UX designers to marketing and sales teams, a product manager must align all departments towards a common product goal. Ensuring the product’s delivery on time and within budget, and tracking key performance indicators (KPIs) to measure the product’s success are also their responsibilities.
A product manager typically works in a dynamic and fast-paced work environment. As a central figure in both the development and marketing of products, they often spend their days working with various departments, including engineering, design, sales, marketing, and customer service. They are also in regular contact with external stakeholders, including suppliers, clients, and consultants. This role often requires managing multiple tasks simultaneously and dealing with complexity and uncertainty.
While most product managers work in an office setting, some may work remotely, particularly in tech companies. Travel might be required to meet with clients, attend trade shows, or visit other company locations. They frequently engage in meetings, both in-person and virtual, and spend significant time using project management and data analysis tools on a computer.
Typical work hours
Product managers generally work full-time, with the standard 40-hour workweek spread from Monday to Friday. However, given the project-oriented nature of the role and the necessity to coordinate with various teams, they may often need to work additional hours to meet product launch deadlines or to tackle unexpected challenges that emerge in the product development process.
In cases where the product is aimed at global markets, or when the teams are spread across different time zones, a product manager may sometimes have to adjust their work hours to collaborate effectively. Despite these demands, many companies encourage a balanced work-life culture and provide flexibility to accommodate personal schedules when needed.
How to become a product manager
This career guide section outlines the process of becoming a product manager. In this route, you’ll go through educational prerequisites, necessary work experience, and important skills development.
Step 1: Obtain a bachelor’s degree
Start with a bachelor’s degree in business, marketing, economics, or a related field. These programs provide a broad understanding of business operations, consumer behavior, and market research, which are all vital to this role.
Step 2: Gain work experience
After graduating, aim for entry-level positions in business or marketing. This helps build foundational skills for a future role in product management. Experience in project coordination, marketing analysis, or sales can be beneficial.
Step 3: Develop necessary skills
While gaining work experience, develop the necessary skills for product management. These include strategic thinking, project management, communication, and leadership. Understand data analysis tools and software that can help in the decision-making process.
Step 4: Obtain a master’s degree (Optional)
While not required, many top companies prefer candidates with a master’s degree in business administration (MBA). This degree can provide more extensive knowledge of product development, business strategic planning, and financial management.
Step 5: Gain experience in product management
Before becoming a full-fledged product manager, gain experience in a role focused on product development or management. Roles like assistant product manager or product analyst provide valuable experience and a closer look at the duties and responsibilities of a product manager.
Step 6: Earn relevant certifications
Earning product management certifications can enhance your profile. Consider certification programs like Certified Product Manager (CPM) from the Association of International Product Marketing and Management (AIPMM) or Pragmatic Marketing Certification.
Step 7: Apply for product manager positions
With the right education, experience, skills, and certifications, you can confidently apply for product manager positions. Prepare a tailored resume emphasizing your relevant accomplishments and capabilities. Also, focus on interview preparation, showcasing your problem-solving skills, and demonstrating your understanding of the company and its products.
How much do product managers make?
Product manager salaries vary by experience, industry, education, location, and organization size. The specific blend of skills such as strategic planning, competitive analysis, and knowledge of product lifecycle can also significantly influence the compensation.
Highest paying industries
- Software Publishers – $130,610
- Securities, Commodity Contracts, and Other Financial Investments and Related Activities – $128,750
- Data Processing, Hosting, and Related Services – $124,830
- Computer and Peripheral Equipment Manufacturing – $123,710
- Computer Systems Design and Related Services – $121,830
Highest paying states
- California – $131,700
- Washington – $129,210
- New York – $125,430
- New Jersey – $123,850
- Virginia – $122,540
Types of product managers
Below, we explore common career types and areas of specialization for product managers. This section provides a comprehensive view of the varied roles and specializations within this profession.
Technical product manager
A technical product manager bridges the gap between technology and business. With expertise in technical aspects and a strong understanding of the product’s technology platform, they design and manage products that align with the company’s strategic goals. These professionals usually have a background in computer science or engineering.
Product marketing manager
This role, on the other hand, involves creating marketing strategies for the products. A product marketing manager digs deep into market research, understands customer needs, defines the product’s unique selling proposition, and plans effective marketing campaigns to promote the product. They work closely with both the product development and sales teams to drive product awareness and increase sales.
Digital product manager
As the title suggests, a digital product manager is specifically focused on digital products – either standalone digital platforms or digital aspects of physical products. They coordinate the development, launch, and refinement of digital products, ensuring usability for the end-user while achieving business objectives. In a world increasingly going digital, this role is rapidly gaining prominence.
A product owner is a key role in Agile or Scrum development methodologies. Their primary function is to define, prioritize, and clarify the product backlog, serving as the chief liaison between the product development team and other stakeholders. They represent the customer’s voice and ensure the team’s efforts align with user needs and business goals.
Top skills for product managers
This section highlights the skills and traits that will lead to career success as a product manager. The following breaks down the key abilities that are crucial in excelling in this demanding role.
A successful product manager should possess strong analytical abilities. These skills help them understand complex problems, analyze them, and come up with practical solutions. It also helps them to interpret data and make informed decisions on product strategy.
Effective communication is essential. These professionals must clearly articulate their ideas and feedback to both technical and non-technical audiences. From delivering presentations to writing project outlines, every piece of communication can have a significant impact on the product’s outcome.
Providing sound leadership is a key part of this role. Not only do these professionals need to guide their teams toward a shared vision for the product, but they also need to inspire others, manage conflicts, and influence stakeholders to gain support for their initiatives.
Product managers should be able to think from the customer’s perspective. Understanding the user’s needs, behavior, concerns and feedback is essential in building a product that solves real problems and delivers value.
While a product manager doesn’t necessarily need to code, they must understand technology. Having a grip on how different systems and tools work, their limitations, costs, and time-to-market is necessary for effective decision-making.
Career path options
Starting as a product manager, there are several career avenues you can explore. This job role is a springboard to higher-level roles within the organization. As you gain experience, leadership skills and a reputation for success, you can advance in your career path.
Senior product manager
An obvious immediate advancement for a product manager is the senior product manager role. This higher-ranking position requires more strategic thinking, along with the capability to supervise other product managers. Success in this role can open up additional opportunities.
Head of product or product director
In larger organizations, you may look to step up to the head of product or product director role. Both positions require handling multiple product lines, developing product strategies, and partnering with senior leadership to meet the company’s objectives.
Vice president of product
A role as vice president of product (VP product) could be the next career step. This executive-level role demands a strategic mindset to manage the company’s complete product portfolio and ensure alignment with the company’s goals and market needs.
Chief product officer
At the pinnacle of the product management hierarchy lies the chief product officer role (CPO). A chief product officer oversees all product-related matters in a company and is typically a part of the executive team, having a direct impact on the company’s strategic direction.
Similar job titles
Position trends and outlook
In the modern world of technology and business, product managers play a key role. The role evolves alongside market needs, technological advancements, user feedback, and company goals. Over the years, there has been an increased emphasis on user-centric designs and agile methodologies. For a product manager, these trends have led to a greater focus on understanding the end-user, creating flexible work plans, and working in cross-functional teams.
Data has also become central in product management. The use of data analytics to drive decision-making and measure product performance is a relatively new trend, but one that has quickly become essential in the industry. Product managers now use advanced analytics tools to derive insights and draw evidence-based conclusions. This contributes greatly to creating a successful product that meets the needs and preferences of consumers.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the overall employment of management occupations, which includes product managers, is projected to grow 6% from 2021 through 2031, about average for all occupations. This growth will be driven by the formation of new organizations and the expansion of existing ones, which would require more managers to oversee these operations.
Product manager career tips
Understand your product fully
To excel as a product manager, you must understand your product inside out. This means knowing its functionality, the technology behind it, its market demand, and how it compares with competitors. You should also understand where the product fits within the overall company goals, and how changes to any aspect of the product could impact its success.
Build a professional network
Networking is an essential part of any career, and product management is no exception. By making connections with other professionals in your field, you can learn from their experiences, find mentors, and potentially discover new career opportunities.
- Product Development and Management Association (PDMA)
- Association of International Product Marketing and Management (AIPMM)
- Product Managers Association (PMA)
Product management is a dynamic field and to stay ahead, continuous learning is advised. This could involve taking up additional courses, attaining certifications or keeping up with industry trends and new technologies.
- Certified Product Manager Credentials
- Agile Certified Product Manager Training
- Courses on data analysis and management for product development
Develop strong leadership skills
As a product manager, you’re likely to lead cross-functional teams, therefore, strong leadership skills are necessary. This includes the ability to motivate team members, communicate effectively, solve conflicts, and make quick decisions. It would be beneficial to attend leadership workshops or events to enhance these skills.
Where the jobs are
- New York
What is the role of a product manager in a company?
In a business setting, this professional oversees all aspects of a product or product line, from conceptual design to customer feedback. They’re often in charge of gathering consumer insight, making sure their products meet the needs of the market, and coordinating with various teams, including marketing, sales, production, and engineering. They also usually keep tabs on competition and market trends.
What skills are needed for product management?
There are several core abilities you need in this field. These include excellent communication skills, problem-solving abilities, the ability to think strategically, and strong leadership skills. Prospective product managers must also understand the market and competition, as well as the technical capacity to manage the entire product development process. Knowledge in data analysis and project management is also helpful.
What is a typical workday like?
A typical day varies widely depending on the phase of products under their control. Common tasks can include meeting with team members, drafting product plans, conducting market research, liaising with stakeholders, checking on product development progress, testing product prototypes, reviewing customer feedback, or preparing for product release.
What type of education is required?
A bachelor’s degree in business, marketing, economics, or a related field is generally expected. However, because this role is highly interdisciplinary, degrees in engineering, computer science, or design can also be beneficial. Additionally, some positions may prefer or require a Master’s in Business Administration (MBA) due to the leadership component of this role.
What type of companies need product managers?
Both small and large businesses that produce goods or services can benefit from having a dedicated individual overseeing product development and management. This is particularly the case for tech and software companies, manufacturing firms, retail brands, pharmaceutical companies, and any other businesses that design and launch products on a regular basis.
What tools do product managers use?
These professionals use various tools to organize, track progress, communicate with team members, and analyze data. These can include project management software like Trello or JIRA, communication platforms like Slack, data analytics tools like Google Analytics or Tableau, and customer feedback tools like SurveyMonkey.
What are the challenges faced by product managers?
This profession often faces tight deadlines, scope creep, shifting markets, managing disparate teams, and bridging gaps between customer needs and business goals. They may also encounter difficulties in managing priorities, balancing resources between various projects, and meeting stakeholders’ expectations. To succeed, they must stay focused, flexible and consistently communicate with all parties involved.
How to start a career in product management?
Starting a career in this field often requires a mix of academic qualifications, work experience, and soft skills. Gaining industry exposure through internships or entry-level positions in marketing, sales, or project management can be beneficial. Attending networking events and seeking mentorship from existing professionals in the field can also aid in breaking into the industry. Lastly, dedicating time to understanding the latest market trends and customer behaviors can set you ahead of the competition.