First things first:  What is a product manager?

Think of the product manager as the mini CEO for a product.

So you want to be a product manager…

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© 2011 Martin Eriksson


First things first:  What is a product manager?

Think of the product manager as the mini CEO for a product. They start with an idea and oversee the development of a product from the initial market research to a fully functioning product with continuing analysis and review. They set the strategy and vision for the product and lead the cross-functional teams that work to ensure success. This might include creating a “roadmap” for the product that everyone follows.  From conception to launch, their responsibilities might include market research, development of product feature list, user experience design, product flow creation, implementation timeline, use case development, issue list management, and data analysis. Product managers might work with products used by consumers but many work on products for businesses (B to B: business to business).

Where do they work?

Product managers work in a wide range of industries: health care, banking, finance, internet and software, entertainment, telecommunications, consumer products, etc.


Meetings with team members, department managers and clients

Market and user research

Reading and writing reports

Dealing with schedule changes

Problem solving production problems

The Product Manager leads the entire product lifecycle:

  1. PMs must first understand their users and to do this, they might conduct surveys, host interviews, sit with customers and observe, or look at data. The PM is the ultimate advocate for the end user and they must have a thorough understanding of what the user needs and wants.
  2. PMs must also have a solid understanding of the market and their competitors. Market research and understanding will be important all throughout the lifecycle.
  3. The next step is to build a great strategy that is tied back to the comany's business model (for example, increase profit or revenue or engagement). The market research will drive this process and strong, clear communication skills (both written and oral) will be important in this step.
  4. A user experience team will design a solution for the problem being solved. They’ll figure out user flow for how to best solve the problem. This may inlcude building a wireframe (like a blueprint of building) and a product prototype -  a working model that they’ll take to users and get feedback.
  5. Next, the PM will work with team of engineers to actually build the product. The PM is the advocate for the users and must make sure the team rallys around vision for the product that closely aligns with user needs and business goals.
  6. Ensure delivery by deadline. This often means working late to ensure deadline is met.
  7. Take to market by communicating to users why this product is better than alternatives. Marketing and sales skills will help a PM understand how to grow and scale the product.
  8. The product will keep evolving as the PM monitors analytics to see how and where to improve. This includes managing the issue list and deciding what gets fixed first.


Project Manager Hard Skills:

Problem Solving

Pasion for technology (how to use technology to solve problems)

User Experience Design

Business understanding (product must add to company business model)

Analytical and data driven (apptitude for numbers)


Project Manager Soft Skills:

Leadership Skills - Able to lead without authority.

Teamwork/Communication – Effectively communicate with team. Rally everyone together behind common vision. Clarity of thought on paper as well.

Able to take feedback, especially negative feedback - Take feedback see what you can learn and not take it personally. Everyone will think they can do it better.

Prioritizing ideas – A PM will have lots of their own ideas as well as seeking out other people’s ideas about what will work best. Must be able to prioritize all of them.


Product managers might have different areas of expertise:

  1. Engineering – strong technical skills and good communication with engineering team. A PM with strong engineering skills will also be able to think of good technical solutions.
  2. Design – great understanding of user experience and how to build delightful experiences for users. Must also be able to think about the business goals and priorities.
  3. Business – might be an MBA who can see bigger picture and how decisions impact the business. A business PM must also be careful to maintain an eye for detail in addition to understanding the overall business case for the product.
  4. Data - strong analytic skills and very data driven. Data product managers will be good at breaking down problems into smaller chunks to analyze. Must beware of relying too heavily on the data and be willing to add own intuition and gut instincts to data analysis.