What to Look for in a Great Product Manager
In every organization, each member has a role to play. She has responsibilities and duties to carry out, and accountabilities that are unique to her person and position within the organizational structure. In a well-structured organization, it is easy to identify these roles: they each have their own titles and designation. In a manufacturing or development concern, considered to be one of the main players is the Product Manager.
This article invites you to 1) meet the product manager, 2) understand his role and responsibilities, 3) the basic qualitfications required for a great product manager, and 4) read about the traits of stellar product managers.
MEET THE PRODUCT MANAGER
From the job title alone, we may have an idea who a product manager is, and what her role is supposed to be. A quick Google search provides an easy to understand definition of a product manager: she is someone who communicates product vision from the lowest levels of executive leadership to development and implementation teams. Within an organization that is headed by a company CEO, she is the ruler of her own realm, or the CEO of the product.
A product cannot be developed if there is no product manager to initiate its development. Based on customer demands in the market, the product manager will come up with a product vision, defining the WHY, the WHAT, and the WHEN of a product. She will then communicate these to the product engineering or development team, which will then design and build the product. Throughout the process, the product manager will also bring in and oversee any changes that may be needed to make the process more effective.
FUNCTIONS AND RESPONSIBILITIES OF A PRODUCT MANAGER
Many are still confused as to what a product manager actually does. We know that she is an integral part of the organization. We know that, without her, there wouldn’t be a chance for a company to come up with a product that will appeal to consumers in its target market. Author Marty Cagan said it best when he described the product manager as the person who is meant to “discover a product that is valuable, usable and feasible”.
Responsibilities of a product manager
Let us take a look at the responsibilities of a product manager within the organization.
- Identification of profitable opportunities in the market. The ever changing nature of markets means that the demands would also be subject to changes. It is the role of the product manager to be alert and aware of these demands, and recognize opportunities to make a profit. If she noticed a specific demand, she will then think of ways for the business to come out with a product that will meet that demand. It is the responsibility of the product manager to identify product ideas and assess their viability. These ideas can come from a lot of sources, such as the customers themselves, the competitors and their customers, industry analysts and the members of staff in the organization, belonging to the different departments.
- Launching of new products into the market. Whenever you see new products being officially launched in the market, you can imagine a product manager working behind the scenes, pulling all the strings. She is the one to plan how the product will be introduced, and oversee the implementation of the plan. Aside from deciding on the “right product”, the product manager will also have to identify the “right time” for the product. In short, she will also be the one to decide the right timing to launch a product.
- Monitoring of progress or performance of products in the market. Once products are already in the market, they will still require continuous monitoring, which is another role in the hands of the product manager. She is tasked to oversee these existing products, in case they may need winding down, or if they are still performing so well that they could lead to more opportunities for the company.
- Winding down of products that are no longer profitable. At some point, the market may no longer need that product. The decline in demand can be due to many things, such as the introduction of newer products by the company or of better products by competitors, or a general disinterest for what the product has to offer due to the passage of time. Whatever the reason is, there comes a point when a business has to concede and wind down the products, until they are pulled out completely from the market. Just as the product manager is the one to determine the timing of when a product will be launched, she will also be the one to decide when a product has to wind down from the market.
- Development of customer relationships. Wait, isn’t this the responsibility of the marketing team? Why should the product manager have anything to do with it? Keep in mind that the customers are buying the products, which means that the product manager is still a stakeholder in this whole relationship.
A product manager manages products, not the people. She may lead the people in her team, but she will not manage them. Notice that the product manager’s responsibilities pertain mainly on the product itself. After all, she is the brain behind the product, so she is the one with the heaviest responsibility in the entirety of the product life cycle. It goes without saying that the success of a product is on her shoulders; the profit and loss of the product is her responsibility.
Functions and tasks of a product manager
In order to carry out her responsibilities, we can list down several tasks or functions that a product manager has to perform on a regular basis. The product manager is always busy. Contrary to what many may perceive, the job of a product manager does not begin with just launching a product, and neither does it end when a product has already been launched in the market.
- Research. The life of a product manager involves a lot of research and information-gathering. She is the one who will actively go out and communicate with customers, as well as prospective customers, in the market. You will also find them conducting surveys and usability tests, and the market data they have gathered will then be analyzed in order to make informed and intelligent decisions regarding product management.
- Documentation. Product managers are also responsible for keeping files and records relevant to the product, such as complaints and compliments. There are also other relevant usable documentation that are required, pertaining to the business, the market, and the product. Basically, any documentation that will have an impact on the product is relevant to the product manager.
- Communication with customers. As product managers are also responsible for developing customer relationships, she should communicate and interact with them through various means available. Product managers today are lucky, since there are a lot of means or avenues of communication that they can use apart from meeting with them face to face. They could communicate and collect feedback via email or telephone, or they can connect using social networks, blogs, or online forums and communities.
- Communication with other departments within the organization. A product manager is also seen as a bridge connecting the different departments that are directly and indirectly related to the product. She acts as a cohesive glue bringing Product Design, Product Engineering and Development, Operations/Production, Marketing, Sales, and Customer or After-Sales Service together.
BASIC QUALIFICATIONS OF A PRODUCT MANAGER
An individual must have met at least these basic requirements in order to be qualified as a product manager. What separates a regular product manager from a great one, however, are the “extras”, or the characteristics or traits that they can bring to the table. So you want a smart product manager? Then you will probably check out what business degree she has earned, and from what school or institution she earned it from. You may even take a look at her other credentials and applicable certifications.
But aside from the requisite educational achievements, you have to take into account the following:
Basic knowledge about the company, the market and its elements
A product manager should know the company/business, the customer, the product, and the competitors. This knowledge may be acquired through research and other learning efforts of the individual, or through experience.
Good communication skills
The product manager has been described as someone who communicates, and even called “a bridge”. Therefore, she should have good communication skills – both written and oral. She should be able to express herself clearly and fully through speaking and writing. Product managers are expected to make presentations and participate in speaking engagements. Thus, they should have confidence and skills to be able to stand in front of a group of people to deliver these presentations. In addition, they are also expected to write communications, correspondences, product narratives, essays, reviews, and the like.
Conversational skills are equally important, since they are needed in internal communication, such as speaking with the members of the product team, and other staff members of the company.
It is simple enough: You want to build something? Then you should know how it will be built. You want to make a product? Then you should know how it will be made.
Given how business and production is now technology-driven, some companies require product managers to be updated on applied technology. They might not be experts just like the engineers and designers are, but having basic knowledge is still required. This skill may be acquired through learning and experience.
Time management skills
All managers should have good time management skills; this is a given. Being able to differentiate the important stuff from the less important ones, and prioritizing them in order of relevance and urgency is also required from product managers. One cannot be an effective, much less great, product manager if they do not know how to manage time, and end up having fatigue and burnout from their job.
You may be under the impression that, as long as they meet the basic requirements, they can become product managers. That may be true at first glance, but we are talking about great product managers here, not just your ordinary product manager.
TRAITS OF A GREAT PRODUCT MANAGER
Behind every great product is a great product manager. If you want to have a great product – one that will set you apart from the competition and bring you ahead of the pack, particularly in terms of profitability and growth, you have to make sure you have a great product manager first. After all, the creation of a great product begins with him.
Relying solely on paper qualifications or the basics is not going to be enough, considering the fact that being a product manager requires judgment, and lots and lots of insights. What are the characteristics or traits that you should look for in a great product manager?
Must have an understanding of the market
A great product manager understands the market. This includes an understanding of the customers, the competition and the other forces that affect the performance of a product in the market.
- Customers and the Target Market. She should have the ability to empathize with the target market, taking into consideration their differences in values, perceptions, priorities, expectations and experiences. The ability to put themselves in their customers’ shoes is something that not all product managers can do, but anyone who can is definitely on the road to greatness in product management.
- Product or Offering. She should have a deep understanding of the product: how it works, what its strengths are and, of course, what its weaknesses are.
- Competitors. Product managers will be surprised at how much they will learn (and improve) just by keeping a close eye on their competitors. Just by observing competitors’ products, you will be able to identify demands and opportunities for new products, or for improvements of your existing products.
Must have passion for the product
A great product manager understands the product. In fact, she should actually use the product. It is a classic case of practicing what you preach, or “walking the talk”. You cannot expect to sell a product to customers when you cannot even be convinced to use it yourself on a regular basis.
As product manager, you will be representing the product team and the product across the company. You are going to be the product’s champion; therefore, you have to be naturally passionate about the product. You have to love it. And one way of showing that is by using it.
In addition, the product maanger should be knowledgeable about lean analytics for driving forward the product.
Must have the ability to inspire the members of the product team
This is one of the offshoots of having passion for the product. If you are passionate about it, and you love it, you will feel motivated about promoting it and advancing it. In so doing, you will be able to inspire everyone in the product team so that they, too, will develop passion for the product.
The role of a product manager within the organization is almost evangelical, in the sense that she will be extolling the great things about the product to other members of the team, and the organization so that they, too, will have faith in it and passion for it.
Must have great leadership skills
Do not forget that a product manager is a manager. And all managers are leaders. Thus, you should look for a product manager with very good leadership skills. Are they able to work with different types of people and lead them accordingly? What is their tolerance level for mistakes, and how do they solve problems? What is their approach in leading the members of their team?
Part of being a great leader in a product team is being able to work with the rest of the team. They should also be open to the opinions and ideas of the product team members and empower them, instead of having all the solutions. The product manager should also be familiar with the members of the team, meaning she should have a basic understanding of the fields that each of the team members is working on.
Disagreements and differences in opinions are also bound to happen in a team. The product manager should be able to deal with these issues immediately, without causing more problems and widening gaps or rifts among and between team members.
Must have good marketing skills
Knowing one’s way around marketing is a definite advantage for a product manager. She is going to be working with marketing people, such as press people, media practitioners, and market analysts, especially when she has to conduct product launches or stage product-related events. This goes hand in hand with having good communication skills.
Must have a strong work ethic and integrity
Being a product manager is not an easy task. There are a lot of heavy responsibilities involved, with them requiring commitment, effort, hard work, and integrity. The ability of an individual to exercise these in the course of the performance of their job as a product manager will no doubt be an asset to the company as a whole.
A good product manager should also have the ability to work well with senior management or company executives. This is because she will not be able to continue her work in product development without the support from the executives.