What Product Managers do and How to become one [Part 1 — From Zero to Product Manager]
I enjoy learning and sharing about Product, Agile methodologies & Scrum. Currently working as a Prod
This article is Part 1 of the ongoing series From Zero to Product Manager. A set of articles that help you transition to a Product Management role. In this post I explain what a Product Manager (PM) is and how the role can differ across companies, I describe the best qualities of an excellent PM.
You are aspiring to a switch into a Product Management career but don’t know where to start from: this article is for you. Product Management roles started rising less than 20 years ago, it’s normal not having a clear understanding of what the role encompasses. I found this great definition from Atlassian that provides a fundamental understanding of the role.
A product manager is the person who identifies the customer need and the larger business objectives that a product or feature will fulfill, articulates what success looks like for a product, and rallies a team to turn that vision into a reality. (Sherif Mansour on Atlassian)
In this article, I provide simple steps and tools to step up in this thrilling career path.
What you will find in this article:
- A complete understanding of what a PM is and is not
- The four types of Product Managers: Consumer, Internal, B2B, Technical
- The four qualities of a great PM: Communication, Technical knowledge, Problem-solving mindset and leadership
Defining the role of a Product Manager (PM)
1) Product Manager roles are trending
As this great article
from Productboard states,
“We are in the Golden Age of Product Management”.
What was not a long time ago an obscure job title that none would know how to define is now one of the hottest roles in the Market.
Product Management roles in the US have grown an astounding 32% from August 2017 to June 2019, which is five times more than the growth for overall jobs. (Study
from Neal Iyer from Product Management Insider). With some specific roles like Growth Product Manager showing a 425% increase in average monthly interest over the last 5 years in Google Trends (ProductLed
Product Management roles in the US have grown 32%, which is five times more than the growth for overall jobs.
Before getting tips on how to transition to a Product Management position, let’s define its role.
2) What a PM is not:
2.1) A PM is not a Manager.
Let’s start with the least obvious, as the job title doesn’t say, a PM is not a manager (in the traditional term). His primary responsibility is not caring for a team and their growth but Product. As scrum.org put it, the Product Owner role is to maximize the Product Value. If you work as a PM, you quickly realize that if, of course, it implies having a motivated, high-performing team, so it’s in your best interest to having everyone feeling fulfilled about their job and passionate about their mission.
2.2) A PM is not an engineer.
This misconception comes from the fact that most recruiters and most job posts require you to have a computer science degree. It’s particularly true for a specified type of PM that I outline later. Having a strong technical background is an excellent advantage for your job, helping you understand more how the Product is going to be implemented, and the limitation you could face. However, the PM is not an engineer as he decides on the What, not on the How. The PM determines what Product do we want to implement to maximize value for our users. The development team decides how to implement the Product and with which technology.
The PM is not an engineer as he decides on the What, not on the How
2.3) A PM is not a designer.
A good PM needs a good understanding of customer needs. Having a substantial User Experience (UX) background helps you tailor a product closer to the requirements of your users. However, as a PM, you don’t need to be proficient in Design and a pro of Adobe and Sketch. Depending on the organization and your role, you can delegate those responsibilities to UI and UX designers.
Digression — The difference between PM in FGMC vs Software company:
In this section, I want to clarify the confusion with the traditional PM role of FGMCs which belong within the Marketing Department. You might have one friend working at L’Oréal as a PM of a Shampoo line who has no idea about Agile, UX, or the concept of maximizing value for the user. However, they can tell you all about the shampoo market, their last marketing campaign, and their retail strategy. This PM usually evolves as Product Line manager (Haircolor — L’Oréal Paris) and then finally promoted to a Brand manager (L’Oréal Paris). It’s a career path within Marketing, and although the PM shares the same job title, the role differs a lot from the Agile Product Manager, most frequently from Software companies, that we are focusing on in this article.
3) What is a PM:
The PM is the person responsible for the success of the Product. Note that the Product can be an app, a line of products, a subsection of a product (a section of a website).
What are some Product Manager Responsibilities:
- User Research
- Data analysis
- Project Management
- Stakeholder Management
- Cross-functional management
4) The four types of Product Managers
There are four types of Product Managers roles. They differ according to the type of organization and Product.
4.1) Consumer PM
He builds products for the general consumer. One example could be TickTock.
His primary responsibilities are:
- Data Analysis
- User research to prioritize work for new features
4.2) Internal PM:
He builds products for users within their own company. For example, software used by Customer Service.
His primary responsibilities are:
- Project Management
- Not much design as it’s internal
4.3) Business to Business (B2B) PM:
He builds products for use at another company. For example, a PM at HubSpot, an inbound marketing automation tool.
The principal characteristics of B2B products are:
- Low volume, high cost, sold by sales teams
- There is a smaller number of end-users (compare to consumer products), although, for some successful companies like SalesForce, this number is still huge
- Execution focus
- The main challenge is that the product end-user (e.g., Sales) is different from the purchase decision-maker (e.g., Finance)
4.4) Technical PM:
He focuses on technical product manager. For example, Google Product manager working in the search algorithm.
Specificities of a Technical PM are:
- Can be a subtype of any of the other types
- Solving complex technology challenges
I include an infographic from Mckinsey that offers a different categorization:
The four qualities of a great Product Manager
We previously saw that there are different types of Product Manager, and each type requires different skills and backgrounds. However, some broads qualities considerably help to switch to a Product Manager position.
Communication: You can communicate via email, phone, or in-person meetings. As a PM, you have to talk with internal and external stakeholders frequently to gather feedback and express your vision. And remember the best communicators are the best listeners, or as the saying goes, “Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood.
Technical knowledge: Having an engineering degree is not mandatory, but the more technical knowledge, the easier. As a PM, you need to understand the technology and to be able to talk to it with your team.
Problem-oriented: A PM is a problem solver. He loves having complex challenges that require thinking outside the box. Being flexible and create is not a set of skills but a mindset.
Leadership: A PM is not a manager, but he is a leader. And a good leader makes sure to listen to the team and address concerns. He is open to criticism, always looking to improve his role and the Product. He practices transparency within the team and for the entire organization. He is accountable for the Product. He makes sure to give credit to others to create a motivated team.
Congratulations if you made it this far! I hope this article helped you to switch to a Product Manager position. If you are interested to learn more make sure to read Part 2 and Part 3 of the From Zero to Product Manager series.
Please let me know in the comment section if there additional tips that you would find useful. And don’t forget to check my other posts about Product Management and Agile Methodologies.
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