What does a Product Manager do?

In my previous article I tried to do an easy and anecdotical introduction into product management world and to explain for everyone what the Product Manager role is.

It’s time to get a bit more serious and technical about the subject and try to answer one of the most important questions: What does a Product Manager do? From the many definitions of the Product Manager role, the following is the one I like the most:

The Product Manager is responsible to build the right product and to build it right.

The Product Manager will coordinate the creation of the product from the conception to the execution while keeping all team members working in the same direction, toward the same goal. In order to be successful, he or she must possess and to master a set of specific skills. Delivering “the right product” in the software development area in particular requires three level of expertise:

  1. Technology
  2. Business
  3. User Experience

You will find this diagram all over the internet, and I think it’s the perfect illustration of where the PM role falls into an organization.

Image Source – https://www.atlassian.com/agile/product-management

A good Product Manager should be able to:

  • translate the business objectives into technical requirements
  • explain the product functionalities to the stakeholders
  • act as a link between the product development team (tech) & product business side (marketing, sales, legal)
  • communicate with customers and product end users
  • and many, many more…

To get a much detailed understanding of what a Product Manager does, I will try to expose in this article the most common processes used in the product management activity. Many companies or famous product managers developed their own frameworks, some of them really simple, some of them more complex, but I think most of them includes all the following phases and processes.


A. PRODUCT STRATEGY

  1. Define Product Vision (What problem(s) the product is willing to solve)
  2. Define Target Audience & Customers (Defining „Personas”)
  3. Define Product Positioning (Marketing positioning)
  4. Competitive Analysis (Research and “dissect”similar products on the market)
  5. Differentiation (How the product resolve customer needs compared to competition)

B. GOALS & INITIATIVES

  1. Define Product Goals (What do we want to achieve)
  2. Define Initiatives (How we will achieve the goals)

C. ROADMAP & BACKLOG

  1. Define & Prioritize Features (What features the product should offer and which one are the most important)
  2. Create Product Roadmap (The statement of intent – showing the direction of the product)
  3. Create & Prioritize Backlog (Everything that is known to be needed in the product)

D. SPRINTS & RELEASES

  1. Plan Sprints & Releases (Execute and deliver increments of the product)

A. PRODUCT STRATEGY

Creating the Product Vision

It defines “the why” of your product.

The Product Vision describes what is the purpose for creating the product, what problems will solve, why should people care about it, how the product will improve the life of its users?

Product Vision should be a simple phrase or even a simple sentence capable to capture the essence of all the questions above. Short, simple, easy to understand by everyone.

Even if the Product Vision might seem something so obvious, having it written and easy to understand is crucial for the product success. And it’s Product Manager’s responsibility to define, but equally important to spread the word across the organization and make sure everyone is acting always with the product vision in their minds.

Here is a list of Product Vision and Company Mission examples from some of the top companies in the world developing products you are probably using:

Uber is evolving the way the world moves. By seamlessly connecting riders to drivers through our apps, we make cities more accessible, opening up more possibilities for riders and more business for drivers.

Uber

To organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.

Google

To connect the world’s professionals to make them more productive and successful.

LinkedIn

To help bring creative projects to life.

Kickstarter

Defining the Target Audience & Customers

It defines the “who” of your product.

Who is going to use the product? Who is going to pay for the product? This is the phase when a Product Manager should determine the type of the customers they address to. Based on what the product will offer it’s time to defined the so-called “Personas”. 

Persona = a fictional character created to represent an ideal user type that might use the product.

For example an educational product may have three “Personas”: Student, Teacher and Parent.

Personas are important because they offers the team a common understanding of users in terms of goals and capabilities. Having personas defined for your product provides multiple benefits by creating empathy and understanding with the persons using the product.

Product Positioning

How the product fits into market?

Defining the Product Positioning it’s a vital element for the marketing plan. It is the process used to determine how to best communicate the product to the target customers based on their needs. It communicates the category of users you are addressing to.

Competitive Analysis

Who is my competition? 

Like the Product Positioning, the Competitive Analysis is also part of the marketing plan. By determining and evaluating existing similar or partially similar products on the market, the Product Manager can establish what will make his/her product unique and what attributes must have to attract customers. Product Manager should determine:

  • who are the competitors and what they are offering
  • what is the marketing share for each of them
  • how they are marketing their products
  • what are their strengths and weaknesses
  • what is their strategy
  • what is their product roadmap
  • and many, many more…

Product Differentiation

How does our product differentiate from the competition’s products to make it more appealing?

Product Differentiation is very close related to the Competitive Analysis and it’s using gathered data to create a strategy of how the product will be different and unique comparing to other concurrent products on the market and how this uniqueness will make it more appealing for the customers.

Differentiation can be done by offering more features that the competition does and also by offering better services/features. Only by knowing very well how other products works, the Product Manager will be able to come up with a strategy for standing out from the crowd.

B. PRODUCT GOALS AND INITIATIVES

Defining the Product Goals

What do you want to achieve with your product?

Product Goals are KPI-driven elements used to link the Product Vision with its execution. They should be easy to understand, achievable and measurable. They are used to demonstrate how the product will meet the Product Vision, crucial achievements that must happen in order to turn this vision into reality.

There are different methods to specify and measure the product goals like MBOManage By Objectives, KPIKey Performance Indicators, SMARTSpecific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timely, etc.

One methodology that works well with all these methods is the the OKR methodology – Objectives & Key Results – where the objectives are the outcome and the key results are the methods you have to use to track the achievement of those objectives.

Beside defining the Goals, a Product Manager should also consider the Milestones. While Goals defines where you’re going, the Milestones let you know if you’re actually getting there. 

Product Initiatives & Milestones

Which are the actual steps you need to take in order to reach the Goals?

Product Initiatives are the actual high level efforts that needs to be completed for the Goals to be achieved. When these are defined, Product Manager needs to specify the actual work needs to be performed. Let’s take an example:

Goal = Rank website in Google SERP top 10.

Initiatives = Increase overall website speed, add quality content, get back links from websites with high authority

On a 3rd level from Goal and Initiatives are the Milestones. These are very specific tasks to be performed in order to fulfill the Initiatives and try to reach the Goals. For the example above, we can have the following Milestones:

Milestones: Optimize database queries and increase execution time with minimum 30%, Minify the loading resources like CSS, JS and any other external libraries, Write and publish 10 blog articles using targeted keywords, Publish 20 advertorials in the following websites, etc.

The milestones should be performed in order to fulfill the initiatives and eventually reach the Goal.

C. ROADMAP & BACKLOG

Define & Prioritize Features

What features should product have?

Once you have a good strategy in place with a clear Vision, clear Goals, Initiatives and Milestones you are ready to define and prioritize your product features. A good Product Manager is always guided by the product strategy when it is gathering ideas and transform them into features prioritized in the product backlog.

Even if it’s the Product Manager responsibility, getting ideas for the product features is a collective task and everyone in the organization may and should be involved. Sources for features ideas can be own Product Manager’s ideas, stakeholders and development team ideas, customers ideas and competitors. 

Filtering these ideas and keeping them aligned with the product strategy is the Product Manager’s job who should always keep in mind that is his responsibility to “build the right product”!

Product Roadmap

The document that outlines the vision, direction, priorities and progress of a product over time.

The Product Roadmap is one of the most important documents of a product. It is a shared resource for both internal teams and stakeholders to determine the short, mid and long-term strategy for the product. It’s up to each organization and each specific product how further they look into the future when they create this document.

Product managers create product roadmaps to orient themselves and their teams on what new initiatives and features to tackle, and within what general sequence and timeframe.

Product Backlog

A list of everything that is known to be needed in the product.

I took this short definition of the Product Backlog from the Scrum Guide, one of the most used framework for developing, delivering, and sustaining complex products. As described in this guide, the Product Backlog is an ordered list of everything that is known to be needed in the product and it is the single source of requirements for any changes to be made to the product.

When the Scrum Guide talks about “ordered list” it really means “prioritized list”. And when it says “everything that is known to be needed” it refers to features, fixes, improvements and other technical work.

The Product Backlog is not a document you define at the beginning of the product development and don’t change it until the finish. It’s a living document, permanently “groomed” and refined that should stay visible and provide transparency for the entire product team and even for the entire organization.

A great Product Backlog should state very clearly which ideas from the Product Roadmap should be done next and it should ensure that the most important features are delivered in each new release. It’s the job of the Product Manager (or the Product Owner how this is called inside the Scrum team) to manage this document, but he or she can and should involve everyone in the development team in this process.

D. SPRINTS & RELEASES

Plan Sprints and Releases

Delivering working software quickly and regularly is a fundamental principle of agile development

More and more companies around the world are embracing the principle of the Agile development. Being agile means many things and it basically follows the definition of the agility as described in the dictionary:

adjective: agile
1. able to move quickly and easily

In product development, Agile is a time boxed, iterative approach to software delivery that builds software incrementally right from the start instead of trying to deliver it all at once near the end. In a very simplistic explanation, items from the Product Backlog are moved into the Print Backlog, they are worked and completed by the development team and the result is a new working version of the product (an increment).

The Product Manager, in a close collaboration with the development team, is working on selecting the right items from the Product Backlog and make sure they are the most appropriate to deliver the best value for the upcoming increment of the product. 

Even if at the end of each sprint the result is an working increment of the product, this doesn’t necessary means that the increment will be released for the final user. The Product Manager is the one who decides when this happens, and he should be permanently guided in taking this decision by the Product Roadmap and the current market conditions.


Well, this is what does a Product Manager do. There is no one single definition of this role and there is no one single working framework he or she is using. And in the end, we get back from where we started:

The Product Manager is responsible to build the right product and to build it right.

 

Download Product Management Framework in PDF format here

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